A Simple Life by Ann Hui

A Simple Life

A Simple Life by Ann Hui

Life for a parent is a shitty deal. You raise someone for 20 years and then are abandoned by them to face death for the next 40 years. Strangely, it’s the only selfless thing we do as human beings. But it seems so unfair, someone takes care of you, you should take care of them as well right?

That is the central idea of A Simple Life. The story is about Toh Jie, transliterated as “Sister Peach”  (played by Deannie Yip), is a household maid who has worked for the Leung family for 60 years. She still currently takes care of the young master, Roger (played by Andy Lau). Her health deters and now she in need of Roger to take care of her.

Deannie Yip owns this role. She reminded me of my grandmother at times, who is currently in an old folk’s home. She has the physicality of an old person down, the little tics and the way you lean to take off weight when you walk. She deserved that Venice Film Festival award. Heck, give her more!

Andy Lau has come a long way since his younger days of “playing-a-heartthrob-who-dies-at-the-end-of-the-movie-to-his own-pop-soundtrack” thing. He has learned how to use the subtlety of his face and knows when to chew up a moment. There’s one noteworthy scene where Roger is hanging out with his childhood friends and they all decide to give Sister Peach a call and reminisce about the great food dishes she used to make for them. This aches Roger as he realizes this is basically how people will remember her. And I urge people to watch Andy Lau in that moment.

There is a little detail with the layout of the old folk’s home I wanted to address: it had an open door at the entrance. Many times the old people just opened and closed the door and exited freely. My mother and I debated the reality of this, usually these old folk’s home have a exit button that unlocks the door for safety purposes. There are scenes where Sister Peach and other elderly people are opening and closing this door without supervision. What’s worse is the old folk’s home is right across from a mechanic’s shop! Thinking more about this, it dawned on me: this is an aesthetic choice. It is probably unrealistic but what that aesthetic choice lead me to consider how dangerous the situation was for the elderly people.

As I realized this, there was many aesthetic choices in the story that were designed to raise a discussion about how we should treat and handle elderly people. I admired its subtlety. For example, there’s a scene where Roger and his sister discuss how Sister Peach’s expenses should be handled and it gets pretty dark as it starts to sound like a business transaction.

There are a lot of funny moments in the movie and thank goodness for it. It is very grim to watch old people suffering and deteriorating in an old folk’s home. The film knows that and shows that there is indeed laughter in their lives, and Sister Peach does not have it too bad. The story is not about how the whole world is against her. We never linger on her suffering. Things are never dialed up to eleven. It retains a lot of realism (a lot of the old people in the old folk’s home seem to belong there) and still manages to find drama within it. Good work, Ann Hui!

That’s one major thing I appreciated about this movie: it does not set out to make you cry. It could have easily done so using melodramatic sensibilities and it does not set that as it’s goal.

I did not cry at the end, but I felt the touching cleanse of a cry. I left the theater thinking about how I should treat my grandparents, my parents someday and even the elderly in general. Sometimes they need help walking down from a bus, someone to talk to or simply they just need to feel needed. The film’s heart is in the right place and  I ultimately agree with it’s sentiments: nobody that raised and took care of you deserves to die alone.

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale by Wei Te Sheng

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale by Wei Te-Sheng

I watched both Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale Part 1: The Flag of Sun and Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale Part 2: Rainbow Bridge. I am aware that it has been cut short and released as one film in the United States. Nonetheless, I’m going to write about it as one feature film.

This is a historical story based on true events. The film Seediq Bale depicts the Wushe Incident, which occurred in central Taiwan during the Japanese rule. When the Seediq Bale (Taiwanese Aborigines), believing in the Rainbow, and the Japanese, believing in the Sun, met one another, they fought. The leader of Seediq Bale, Mona Rudao, led 300 warriors fighting against 3000 Japanese troopers.

How much do you love your homeland? What would you do to preserve the sanctity of your own culture?

This film is cruel and brutal on two levels – it’s setup and payoff. First, let’s discuss the setup. It’s disheartening to see the Japanese enslave these Aborigines and use them as workers on their own land. Women work as maids in Japanese homes or make clothes. The men works as hard laborers and are forbidden to tattoo their faces, which is a rite of passage ritual for boys to become real men (a real man is a “seediq bale”). The Japanese think they are helping them and improving their lives with technology, but the Seediq do not see it that way. They are humiliated from the lost of their own land and cannot bear to see the death of their own culture. Every tree they cut down from their own land is a step closer to total ethnocide.

Part One spends a lot of time covering an entire cast of 15-20 characters in this land. The story does not even cover the story of one tribe, it covers and develops multiple characters from 3-4 tribes. It’s quite an achievement how much story they manage to put in without seeming overstuffed. And this is why I strongly urge people to go out and view the two-part version.

There are many little stories that set up for the grand finale: there’s a Seediq who works as a police officer for the Japanese, a Seediq who married a Japanese woman, a Seediq child who’s been taught by a Japanese teacher who ostracizes him from the other Japanese children and general mistreatment of the Seediq men at work. All these little side stories fuel the central story of the tribe leader Mona Rudao (played by Lin Ching-Tai, who gives a great performance as a leader who can’t help watching their people suffer no longer and must take a stand), this all builds to his final decision to revolt and take their land back from the Japanese.

And man, do they fight! When the Seediq fight, they do not anything hold back.They have to be fast and effective as they are fighting against an enemy with better technology. They throw spears, slice throats and are lopping off heads left and right. Yes, there are many scenes of people losing their heads.

Wei Te-Sheng is a competent director who is disciplined in telling his story on a big scale. My favorite scene is the cliffhanger in the first film where the Seediqs have taken an armory. Mona Rudao the tribe leader, withholding all the rifles, carries them over to a square and takes a sit-down break by a Japanese flagpole, contemplating what’s to come. The camera pans up and we see the entire place full of corpses and you feel the foreboding of what’s to come. Another noteworthy powerfully disturbing scene is where a group of non-fighters voluntarily commit ritual suicide to save food rations for the warriors. It’s emotionally powerful as you see the lengths the Aborigines go to to fight for their land.

The scale of this film is epic in the highest order. They seemingly built every Japanese village, Seediq settlement and a working suspension bridge. There are shots of the Seediq workers looking over to the mountains and we literally see every single settlement (the CGI render of the land are more obvious in this movie, and that shot looked real). It works on the level of Seven Samurai as we learn the geography of this land in early scenes, which all plays in and pays off later in the battle scenes, particularly because the Seediq are utilizing guerilla tactics against the Japanese.

I know what you’re thinking, this sounds awfully similar to Avatar. They even sold it as the Asian Avatar on the movie posters. Warriors of the Rainbow gripped me on a much more emotional level and took me places, some of them are thrilling and some of them I plain did not want to go to, but respected it nonetheless. The native Aborgine soundtrack was moving and powerful.

The film is mostly in Seediq with some Japanese. There are at most 15 lines of Mandarin being spoken during the movie by one Taiwanese merchant living in the village. If you’re going to be snotty about reading subtitles, then you’re really going to miss out. Please just learn to enjoy a movie with subtitles! I doubt the Americans can remake this one.

This was one of the best movies I have seen in 2011. It towers in its epic scale and emotionality. It’s … it’s… it’s decapatastic!