Having made a clean sweep in all the major categories at the Hong Kong film awards, A Simple Life finally gets its UK release this week. Directed by Hong Kong veteran Ann Hui, the film depicts the growing bond between an ageing servant and her employer whilst offering a refreshingly optimistic perspective of life in the face of inevitable death. Although its pacing may limit its appeal, the first rate performances by the two leads make A Simple Life one of the most moving films of the year.
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A Simple Life revolves around the relationship between Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) and Roger (Andy Lau, House of Flying Daggers), a successful movie producer and the youngest son of a family Tao has dutifully served for 40 years. When Roger comes home to find Tao has suffered a stroke, he rushes her to hospital where she promptly announces her wish to retire and move to a nursing home. As the days go by and her health slowly deteriorates, the servant becomes the served as Roger devotes his time to taking care of his former maid.
At first glance, that doesn’t seem like nearly enough story to command a two hour run time, but the understated narrative plays out in heart-warming fashion. Even as Tao’s body slowly betrays her, A Simple Life never once becomes overly-sentimental. Hui focuses instead on Tao’s relationships with the people around her, including Roger – whose transformation from thankless employer to devoted carer makes for great viewing – and her nursing home acquaintances, all the while offering a delicate examination of how society treats the elderly.
It’s the wonderfully nuanced performances of the two leads which will endear audiences to A Simple Life. Roger and Ah Tao are inherently guarded characters, but once Tao falls ill and their roles are flipped Ip and Lau – who are Godmother and Godson in real life – showcase their effortless chemistry brilliantly. Whether their interactions are funny tête-à-têtes or the exchange of telling glances, both actors are extremely effective on screen.
“Any Last Words?” As inspiring as it is heart-warming, A Simple Life is subtle filmmaking at its best.
A Simple Life hits UK Cinemas on Friday. Check out the trailer below.