The Way We Are (2008)

Directed by: Ann Hui
Written by: Lou Shiu Wa
Producers: Ann Hui & Wong Yat-Ping
Starring: Pau Hei-Ching, Juno Leung, Chan Lai-Wan, Ida Chan & Clifton Ko

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Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2009:
Best Director (Ann Hui)
Best Screenplay (Lou Shiu Wa)
Best Actress (Pau Hei-Ching)
Best Supporting Actress (Chan Lai-Wan)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2009:
Best Picture
Best New Artist (Juno Leung)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2009:
Best Picture
Best Director (Ann Hui)
Best Actress (Pau Hei-Ching)

Some of you might remember the ride into hell via Lawrence Lau's Besieged City. It was not only because the movie ending up below Lau's standards but due to the view of the area of Tin Shui Wai (also known as the "City Of Sadness"). A society rife with problems of the social and criminal kind but surely there's some light to be had? Not during that particular time in Lau's view so instead we bring in Ann Hui who via her HD video eye gives us The Way We Are. Sole darkness, which is a central one, isn't VERY dark but with a very gentle hand she dives into family relationships. Featuring seemingly simple beats but in reality quite wonderfully well performed subtle ones, this is assured filmmaking.

Produced by an uncredited Wong Jing as confirmed by director Hui in an interview (1*), it's seemingly more of a simple drama from Hui, rife with elements that necessarily doesn't rival Summer Snow but The Way We Are feels like those powerful paint-strokes. Meaning issues on display are very simple to interpret and relate to. Pau Hei-Ching is Kwai, a hard worker at a local supermarket and good caretaker of quiet son Cheung Ka On (Juno Leung). Living every day according to somewhat of a standardized template and not saying a whole lot to each other in actuality, is there bliss inside and outside after all? Kwai also befriends Leung Foon (Chan Lai-Wan), a lonely grandmother not prone to asking for help in life but receives the helping ray of sunshine in the form of Kwai and On. All while Kwai's mother is in the hospital and Kwai favouring her new bond instead of old, family bond...

Slow, static but at no times a boring frame presents us with a few welcome mysteries here and there before more clearly settling on the theme of bonds, you engage yourself quite wholeheartedly in deciphering if the daily routines or non-routines of Kwai and On are in fact spelling out misery. Seeing On appearing very passive and rarely engaging himself in studying, even Kwai's work at the supermarket gets repeated before us as we see her handle durians on more than one occasion. It is what can be described as simple points but are of course the work of a director achieving a presence on all fronts because the little requires little motions to translate fully even on a subtle level if that makes sense. But that's why Hui evokes the feeling of a docu-drama and gets that fine city presence that seems to happen whenever you put a camera amongst the local people of Hong Kong.

Furthermore as Hui evokes the loneliness, frailty of the Leung Foon character via montages of her cooking by herself, eating by herself, making a night snack by herself and not asking for help to do simple things like switch light bulbs, matters are incredibly sweet when injecting Kwai into Leung Foon's life but it's sweetness created by stroking gently as a storyteller. A little smile here, a little smile there... not all bonds die in Hui's clear and quiet contemplating that sees the trio of Pau Hei-Ching, Chan Lai-Wan and young Juno Leung respond with the most superb naturalistic performances.

The ache that is on display is equally real but The Way We Are is one of those Ann Hui experiences where we're thankful we're not drained emotionally. Matters on display are like a real life slice out of the "City Of Sadness" sandwich but even if matters aren't mended perfectly for either character, there's no reason to be sad when control is maintained and restored in the way it is for them. Ann Hui can now therefore go on to punish us next if she wants to. The Way We Are just further shows the humanitarian that actually is and have often been in there.

The DVD:

Kam & Ronson presents the movie in an aspect ratio 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The video image looks sharp and colourful.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review. The 2.0 track is curiously devoid of any stereo and surround activity.

The English subtitles logs a few spelling errors but are fully coherent on the whole. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. Only extra is the trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson


(1) Which is a sign that the hatchet has since been buried after Wong reportedly shot down the reason for Ann Hui's auto-biographical drama Song Of The Exile (1990) to exist. In his words: "Who wants to see the autobiography of a fat woman?". Nice.