Jul 17, 2008|
Everybody probably has a rough picture of life in Tin Shui Wai by now. Newspaper headlines tell us it’s a place where mothers throw their children out the window before leaping to their own deaths. Lawrence Lau’s “Besieged City” tells us it’s a triad hellhole plagued by underage prostitution, underage motherhood and underage murder. Yes, it seems pretty damn rough. Ann Hui’s “The Way We Are” challenges that picture. Or rather, it challenges our salacious fixation with “the city of sadness,” the way it’s become an object of otherworldly fascination for us, as though occupied by life forms entirely alien to our own. The film succeeds in its own aims, but perhaps not without challenging many a potential viewer’s patience as well.
Unlike the young hellraisers in “Besieged City,” the main teenager here (Juno Leung) is an obedient boy who goes to church and helps his mother (Paw Hee-ching) run errands. His only vice maybe is loafing around at home in the wake of his exams—more of a nod to the lack of anything to do in the area than anything else. Mother is a widow who works part-time at Wellcome. When her own mother takes ill and enters hospital, she hasn’t got time to visit her, but fortunately, grandson is there to help.
And that’s all that needs to be said for the story, if one can call it that. Hui shows deliberate restraint throughout with the narrative, mocking our expectations of heavy-handed melodrama at every turn. While media sensationalism has geared us to anticipate tragedy and violence, the film shocks us instead with the unshocking, the banal, the everyday, shot on documentary-style HD video with an unrecognized cast. Above all, it zeroes in on commonalities between ourselves and the characters onscreen. Once again, the approach will test the patience of more than a few viewers. But those hankering after the lurid and the “gritty” needn’t despair. Hui’s intended follow-up to the film already promises to give them their fix of murder.