The Kid (1999)
& directed by: Jacob Cheung
at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2000:
Jacob Cheung's (acclaimed director of Cageman and Intimates) drama from 1999 makes you initially think when looking at the awards- and nominations that year that Hong Kong had a pretty great year for films. At least critically. Feast your eyes on these: The Mission, Running Out Of Time, Victim, Bullets Over Summer, Metade Fumaca, Little Cheung and King Of Comedy. Opinions make the world go around but it seems strange to me that The Kid received slightly lesser acclaim. I'm not out to preach and prove everyone wrong but the roughly 2 hour experience is absolutely terrific to me.
Wing (the late Leslie Cheung) loses his and all his client's money in a stock crash. The night when he returns to his luxury yacht, someone has put an infant in there with a note saying someone rich is better off looking after the baby. 4 years pass and Wing is now taking temporary jobs, helping out elderly home caretaker Lan (Carrie Ng) and continuing to raise a well-mannered child in the form of Ming (Qi Qi). Patrolling the area where they all live is cop Lung (Ti Lung) who looks after and cares for Lan more than he or she ever dare to acknowledge. Through a request to a children's fund, Ming's real mother and head of the fund, Kwan Leung (Echo Chen) comes into the picture. Witnessing the difficulties that comes with Wing raising Ming alone, she and the surroundings realize that a proper upbringing is needed for Ming. Kwan has hurdles to overcome though. Main one being the mental fright of motherhood after initially abandoning Ming...
Another movie from the 1999 cannon of Hong Kong cinema that dealt with the declining economy (also see Ringo Lam's Victim) but Cheung soon settles for yet another drama about social issues set amongst the poor. I wouldn't say it overpowers the brilliant Cageman but it does show a director that still exhibits the same strengths apparent back then. Despite being quite a downhill slide emotionally during its opening reel, Cheung and screenwriter Matthew Tang aren't out to depress but to portray. That choice in portrayal rightly leans towards and thoroughly succeeds in being simplistic and humane. I could probably end the review right here as that's really sufficient gushing about Cheung's inspired work here. You may choose to end reading...others may move on.
With touches of Kramer Vs. Kramer and Hong Kong's own version in the form of All About Ah Long, Cheung doesn't set out to be bleak even though partially what's experienced here is painful. The sweet tone soon settles in as young Qi Qi takes the stage with one of those patented natural performances that in Hong Kong cinema rarely seems to be anything less but incredibly charming. Wing and Ming's act is like an well oiled machine without any harsh strictness at all but it's very apparent that a kind of negligence is on display, despite the happiness that runs through the relationship. Real and valid questions crawl up to the surface regarding the absence of a mother figure (in one of the best moments, Ming reaches out to a TV-screen with Kwan on it. Not because he recognizes her as the mother but as a mother figure) and the fact that this happiness shouldn't reside amongst the rubbish, the lower classes. Important to note, that is an issue raised by the poor themselves, not just the authorities (which is one of the few missteps here as the social workers are portrayed as way too evil).
The question and solution for Ming to properly prosper is rather simple and even predictable. Yet, it's here that Tang's script goes some triumphant, simple ways. Wing is clearly a good father figure and has not put any fake joy in his kid's eyes. However, going for wealth and security is not such a clear cut choice. You have to read children in the best of ways, something which is a plot point with Kwan as she discarded her responsibilities once and is now afraid to take them on again. Ignorance creates these decisions and now that Kwan is at the crossroads again, she must overcome fear to face necessity. Yes, The Kid actually has a clear and expected narrative but that isn't a kiss of death for the picture in any way. Cheung treats the images in suitable subtle ways, with only the score in the beginning stages being a bit too orchestral and therefore contrasting the picture, giving us real characters, real dilemmas, real situations and most importantly real humanity. The pains that along the way are about the increasing tension leading up to THE decision regarding Wing and Ming's future. It would be one thing if Wing was an ignorant father who can't see in the long run what's best for the kid. Despite admitted missteps, he learns but ultimately has to face a decision whether it brings him true happiness or not. Is it sappy in writing? Yes. Cheung's direction and handling of the material is nothing fresh, nor is the score (how many times have we heard a piano driven one?). It's all about Cheung taking previously established ideas and making them work so criminally beautiful for this story. It makes directing look simple but without the central and supporting acting, all would be lost.
Honored at the Hong Kong Film Awards were Ti Lung and Carrie Ng respectively for their supporting work here and in actuality, these two characters aren't a necessity for the film. They are surrounding characters close to Wing and Ming's life that are dependable or depends on them but they could in theory been left out. What Matthew Tang provides for Lung and Tan is an unspoken bond that's played with the requisite tone and ease by the two award winning actors. It's a superbly strong sub-plot. Leslie Cheung, Qi Qi and Echo Shen displays the other requisite traits for their act to work, an easy going and heartfelt chemistry. It was a crowded year at the awards but I still think it's a shame that the other trio of performers, or even Jacob Cheung or Matthew Tang didn't receive any form of honors.
Jacob Cheung's work surely isn't mistreated as such on home video but he remains an award winning force within Hong Kong cinema that hasn't been acknowledged enough in my opinion. It comes down to the age old thing about preference in genre so all I can say to convince you is that The Kid comes with such believable humanity, warmth and realism. It's a portrayal of the poor accepting the terms of their status but having to decide what's best for the youth ultimately. With award winning performances, laid back direction and melodrama that hits home without being cloying, The Kid can stand quite proudly next to other Jacob Cheung achievements.
Mei Ah's disc first of all suffers from a screendoor effect that is seen on the image. A flaw that plagued quite a few early discs of theirs. The 1.65:1 presentation is clean but suffers from high contrast, average blacks and grain. It's not the most visual striking movie ever but this is an average transfer nonetheless.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track uses the front stage quite effectively for music but dialogue can sometimes be drowned out plus there are also audio dropouts on occasions. A 2.0 Dolby Surround option is also available as well as the same selections for the Mandarin dub.
The English subtitles contain only minor errors and seem well translated overall. At times, the appearance of the subtitles come after spoken dialogue, much more so during the final 10 minutes of the film. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. The Mei Ah Databank (with cast & crew listing and the plot synopsis) and the trailer for The Kid are the only extras.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson