A still photo of "A Simple Life" [Photo: douban.com]
As its title implies, A Simple Life is far removed from the extravagant blockbusters that have prevailed in the Chinese film market in recent years.
The 65-year-old Hong Kong director Ann Hui does a beautiful job of making a film that could have easily fallen into shallow tearjerker territory into a tender, emotional and thought-provoking work.
The story depicts the last two years of the life of Ah Tao, a maid who has served a Hong Kong family for 60 years.
The 118-minute tale begins when Tao suffers a stroke. Roger, the son of the family she works for, takes responsibility for looking after the woman who has cared for him since he was born.
The film deals with the universal reality of growing old. Hui is brave to approach the subject because people tend to prefer young and beautiful people on the big screen and are reluctant to consider how people grow old and face death.
But Hui shows that, although some elderly people stay in shabby retirement homes, the aged can still live in dignity.
In one scene, Tao chooses to leave Roger's house to move into the retirement home because she doesn't want to burden him.
She struggles to adjust to her new environment and helps other people living in the facility with money and care.
Hui's sophisticated directorial approach means she never flashes back to show Tao's early life but rather provides a portrait of her younger years as a hardworking and proud maid through present-day conversations with Roger.
Hui also tries to show life as it is rather than create extremes to pull tears out of viewers' eyes. The film's simple storyline, set and score, make it anything but melodramatic. It's more like a documentary of two good people supporting each other in life.
Actress Deanie Ip's portrayal of Ah Tao shines and captivates viewers' full attention. She effectively communicates her character's life philosophy: It's unavoidable that we grow old, and some deal with it with dignity, humor and peacefulness.
The film's first 30 minutes might be difficult to make it through, because the film's first part exposes the embarrassments and hardships of aging.
But as the plot unfolds, the beauty of the simple kindness between two ordinary people brings comfort and warmth to viewers.
This kind of film may not gross much at the box office, but it deserves two hours of patience.