Director: Ann Hui
Cast: Zhou Xun, Eddie Peng, Wallace Huo, Tony Leung, Jiang Wenli, Guo Tao, Huang Zhizong, Ivana Wong, Ray Lui, Deanie Ip, Nian Paw, Jessie Li, Sam Lee, Leung Man Tao, Eddie Cheung, Stanley Fung, Kingdom Yuen
Runtime: 2 hrs 11 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: mm2 Entertainment and Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 6 July 2017
Synopsis: During the 1941 World War occupation, the Japanese military pillaged homes and arrested cultural figures living in Hong Kong. The anti-Japanese Dongjiang guerilla unit is tasked to rescue these cultural figures and evacuating them from the besieged city. The occupation transformed Hong Kong from a prosperous city into a barren land with no food or water. Primary school teacher, Fang Lan (Zhou Xun) and her mother (Deanie Ip) are trying to live out this difficult period in a small run- down flat in Wanchai. After the schools are shut down, Lan – who recently broke up with Wing (Wallace Huo) - unwittingly finds herself embroiled in the guerillas’ mission to save novelist Mao Dun. In the process, she meets Blackie Lau (Eddie Peng), the intrepid sharpshooter captain of the guerillas’ Urban and Firearms unit. Taking notice of Lan’s calm, intelligent nature, Blackie recruits her to join the guerillas. Lan sets up a secret liaison point for the guerillas in the city, stealthily delivering intelligence and evacuating artists from the city under the watchful eyes of the Japanese military. Worried for her daughter’s safety, Lan’s mother volunteers to take Lan’s place as a courier, only to be arrested on the job. To save her mother, Lan is forced to turn to Wing, who now works for the Japanese...
Two years ago, we celebrated Singapore’s 50th anniversary. The historical drama 1965 directed by Randy Ang and co directed by Daniel Yun was made to commemorate the occasion. Alas, the resulting film didn’t go down too well with critics, no thanks to its weak attempt at being a sweeping epic with a stirring call to Singaporeans to feel proud of the nation. The best thing about the overstuffed movie was veteran actor Lim Kay Tong’s portrayal of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
Is Singapore’s history not turbulent enough for an enticing drama? Or have there been no good storytellers to relate the right tales?
Not too far away in Asia, filmmaker Ann Hui’s latest project is branded to coincide with this year’s 20th celebration of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. The ‘celebratory gift’ is a smart marketing decision to sell the movie, and it definitely got the world watching. Fictionalised from actual events, the film tells the story of how guerillas to evacuate Chinese intellectuals out of Japanese occupied Hong Kongduring World War II.
The protagonist (the ever perfect Zhou Xun) is an earnest teacher who gets recruited by a guerilla leader (Eddie Peng putting his mischievous image to good use) after she helps smuggle an intellectual author to safety. There is also her ex boyfriend (Wallace Huo looking very distinguished) who has infiltrated the Japanese occupation headquarters to gather information for the guerillas.
The film’s Chinese title is a poetic classical Chinese verse which evokes the greatness and romanticism of fighting for your country. In the movie, this was discussed between Huo’s character and the Japanese officer (Masatoshi Nagase, who also portrayed another poetry lover in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson) he works for.
Hui, unlike her counterparts Wong Kar Wai, Tsui Hark and John Woo, is less flashy when it comes to making films. Her works are intimate and explore human relationships: The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006) tells the story of a woman who is falling behind in her times and gets taken advantage of by the people around her, The Way We Are (2008) is a drama about a working woman who befriends an older woman in a society where employment is scarce, while All About Love (2010) looks at the difficulties and challenges lesbians face in contemporary Hong Kong.
Although Hui’s account of Hong Kong’s underreported history features several action sequences, they are not bombastic. Her low key approach brings out the best in the ensemble cast. There is fine acting throughout, although you know many of the names that the star studded movie are meant to attract investors. Supporting roles are played by familiar faces like Guo Tao, Ivana Wong, Babyjohn Choi, Nina Paw, Sam Lee, Ray Lui, Stanley Fung, Kingdom Yuen and Candy Lo.
Zhou doesn’t disappoint with her absorbing performance. This time, her good work is complemented by Deanie Ip who shone in Hui’s A Simple Life (2011) where she played a loyal elderly female servant. Here, Ip is a disapproving mother turned courier who eventually gets captured by the Japanese. It is a powerfully moving showcase of good acting which equally inspiring and tear inducing. Tony Leung is also memorable as an ageing war veteran who narrates the story.
Come award season, expect this highly recommended film to score countless nominations.
(A quietly moving piece of work boasting fine acting from the ensemble cast)
Review by John Li