A Simple Life, directed by veteran Hong Kong film maker Anna Hui, centers on the tender relationship between an ageing maid Ah To (Deannie Ip) and her employer Roger (Andy Lau). After decades of dedicated service to Roger’s family Ah To suffers a stroke and chooses to reside in a nursing home, but as time passes her health fades and Rogers slowly turns from lone bachelor to devoted carer.
A Simple Life is an ornate experience that is thoroughly rewarding and the myriad of praise and accolades it has so far received are much deserved on all counts. Easy on the eye and almost meditive in its cinematography, aside a lovingly subtle score there is much delicate skill on display, but it is the performances of real life God mother and son that really shine. The well respected actors, Lau and Ip, have an organic and dignified chemistry that is likely aided by their off screen connection, but I would wager that this relationship wouldn’t always guarantee such seamless performances from other pairings. Andy Lau’s chicness is still quietly apparent but in this instance utilized affectively, Hui appropriately steering the actor’s most notable traits to convey the subtlety aloof level Roger initially operates on, this serves to give further unspoken gravity to his new found responsibility, Roger’s care is never played with predictable burden or impatience but calmly considerate gratitude and realism. Deannie Ip as Ah To is resilient and loveable, a woman who has committed her life to caring for generations of one family and in essence forsaking much of her chances at a family of her own. Though Instead of her role being cynically approached, as with many Asian domestic dramas; with her employers as cold and unappreciative or even tyrannical, they are nothing but grateful and recognize Ah To’s life long kindness as much as her mild stubbornness will allow. Without the need of monologues, flash backs or forced dramatics the role reversal in the leads relationship is a willing transition on Roger’s part and eventually Ah To’s, this makes their interactions all the more believable and moving.
Whilst never rip roaring hilarious the gentle humour that runs throughout resonates well and is always the right side of sweet. The balance in A Simple Life is struck well also, never shying away from the unnerving fragility of old age or the not particularly uplifting challenges in senior mental and health care, the scenes in the home aren’t without their moments of sadness but they also give way to touching moments of selflessness and amusement. Anna Hui shows an admirably restrained and well-judged direction especially with never resorting to dramatic U-turns or thrown in tension to derive cheap emotional pay offs.
Never feeling overly long with its careful pace, A Simple Life gives you the opportunity to empathize and enjoy a natural and superbly acted relationship without pushing or judging. A truly satisfying film, which puts aside the trappings of hasty modern film and allows the audience to appreciate a loving sincerity between two people. The film is much like the character Ah To herself; in being special, unassuming, kind and sensitively strong.