Goodbye Mammie (1986)
Directed by: David Lam
The directorial debut of David Lam, one of many even directors coming out of Hong Kong cinema, his streak started here with melodrama. He would go on to punish hostesses in Girls Without Tomorrow and provide some of the most violent moments in a Hong Kong women in prison movie (aptly titled Women's Prison). Having his debut produced by Sammo Hung, Goodbye Mammie is unusually well-thought out and reserved considering it's the terminal disease melodrama.
Liza (Deannie Yip) is a fashion designer and a single mother to 10 year old On (Wong Yue-Man). Having found out that she has cancer and about 6 months left to live, Liza puts On in an orphanage run by Cheung (Simon Yam) in order for his future to possibly secured. His real life father (Cliff Lok) has a way too busy, lower class life but this decision by Liza isn't particularly well planned out. In fact, it's an irrational one which means the mother and son both have crucial life lessons to learn...
Establishing early in a very crucial scene the love and correct tactics Liza uses to calm her son and keep matters playful, despite the subsequent BIG signal that tragedy is looming, director Lam in a surprising movie keeps his main themes rather subdued. In On's eyes, mom may be Superman but those days are coming to a close and Liza's way of living in the moment creates the most heartbreaking, ill decisions she makes over the course of the movie. The orphanage, where the majority of the movie is set in, isn't entirely an inappropriate environment to live in though. These abandoned children stick together, fight together, are up to no good together but here's the uplifting spirit of the movie coming on as these kids have built up tough character-shells. No doubt still vulnerable kids but this center piece of Goodbye Mammie is very rich.
Shooting in seemingly real locations, Lam achieves a terrific realism and atmosphere within the grounds of the orphanage in particular. As mentioned, a rich depth can be found within it too. The adult on a deadline leaves On that also is on a deadline. You either sink into a shell of nothing after you find out you've basically been abandoned and lied to or you showcase a strength you thought you never had that will carry you through all the subsequent challenges of life you're faced with, as a kid or an adult. Learning of responsibility (On being asked to raise his own chickens is the main symbolism of this), discipline, brotherhood and chivalry, these neither obnoxious or cutesy kids aren't too adult for the movie either. Director Lam therefore shows a keen understanding of children and has a fine sense of directing them naturally as well.
In an adult way re-uniting the very flawed adult character of Liza with the stronger On (who learns empathy all on his own, in particular towards the young robber played by Fan Siu-Wong of Story Of Ricky fame) in the later stages of the film, it's two reaching a common, final understanding and bond that doesn't ever flow into the high pitched melodrama you would expect from a Hong Kong drama. That's why it's suitable Goodbye Mammie isn't a tearjerker as it's more busy getting us and characters with into an uplifting mood. With believable performances from Deannie Yip, little Wong Yue-Man (who interacts with bees and snakes in quite the brave way too) and Simon Yam as an important aid for these two, Goodbye Mammie is quite a superb, unknown, rare breed of its kind. A family melodrama that isn't sad that is.
The DVD (Deltamac):
Video: 1.80:1 non-anamorphic widescreen.
Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0.
Subtitles: English, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.
Extras: The trailer.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson