Well Go USA // 2011 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // February 18th, 2013
"You were always so fussy, spoiling the rest of us." -- Roger
A Simple Life is simply wonderful.
Roger Leung (Andy Lau, Infernal Affairs) is a successful Hong Kong film producer. Ah Tao (Deanie Ip, Crying Heart) is the caretaker who has served Roger and his family for years. After Ah Tao suffers a stroke, their roles switch as Roger decides to care for the woman who raised him from birth.
The biggest danger for a movie like A Simple Life is straying too far afield. Too much in one direction and you get sappy sentimentalism; too far in the other and the movie becomes cynical or melancholy. What makes A Simple Life work so well is that it never does either: it's merely about the affection and appreciation shared between two normal people, and the movie lets that speak for itself.
Director Ann Hui (Summer Snow) and screenwriter Susan Chan (Wait 'Til You're Older) do a wonderful job at keeping the film grounded in reality without bogging down in it. Mortality and the effects of time are a key to the plot here, and A Simple Life thankfully doesn't wallow in misery over that fact. Similarly, Ah Tao is never treated as a sympathy case or melodramatic plot point. Roger and Ah Tao are both quiet, inward characters, but their friendship -- which borders on familial love -- is the real focus of the film.
Lau and Ip are phenomenal in their roles. Ip doesn't downplay the limitations of her ailing, elderly character, and Lau lets Roger's warmth come out even when the character is aloof at times. The supporting cast also delivers, and A Simple Life takes the time to shade in their personalities and their roles in the lives of the leads. Paul Chun (The Sand Pebbles) and Anthony Wong (Infernal Affairs) are particularly memorable, and there are a number of memorable cameos from Hong Kong cinema favorites like Sammo Hung (Ip Man 2) and Hui's fellow HK New Wave compatriot Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China) brings some nice touches of humor to the mix. While A Simple Life isn't a comedy, Roger and Ah Tao have enough playfulness in their personalities for some genuinely funny interactions. The humor is joyful, even understated and -- like everything else in the movie -- quite natural.
Well Go USA does an outstanding job with the presentation of A Simple Life. The 1.85:1/1080p high def widescreen transfer looks great across the board -- the image is consistently clean and clear, and cinematographer Nelson Yu Lik Wai's (Still Life) work glows as a result. There's tons of depth to some of the more wide-angle shots, incredible detail in close-ups, and the natural-looking color palette gives the film a warm, inviting feel. The Cantonese DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and Dolby 2.0 Stereo tracks both sound amazing: dialogue is clear and in the forefront when it needs to be, and composer Law Wing Fai's pretty score fills the channels as needed. If the package falls short in any way, it's only with the extras: we get the trailer for A Simple Life and a few other Well Go releases, but that's it.
A Simple Life doesn't have any plot twists or narrative hi-jinks. It's no-frills storytelling about the impact two people had on each other, and it's so good-natured and well-crafted I had a hard time finding any fault with it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Cantonese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated