My Voice, My Life (爭氣)

my voice my life

My Voice, My Life is one of the better Hong Kong movies you probably won’t be seeing this year. And it’s a shame because it deserves a far wider audience than the school children, educators, and PTAs that make up the bulk of its audience thus far. If it were up to me, this documentary about kids on the margins would be required viewing. But, as things often are, it’s up to the financing gurus and an indifferent public loathe to confront pressing social issues.

The city’s cinematic landscape is filled with films for and about young people but rarely do you find one in which they are voiced with such clarity and their dreams and difficulties treated with such seriousness. Except for students attending ming hao – the most famous, top tier schools, teens are used to being told of their shortcomings and society is used to lowering its standards.

This is exactly the environment from which many of the pessimistic, aimless stars of My Voice, My Life come. The film follows a group of twenty odd teens as they prepare to stage a musical. Most study at low performing “Band 3” schools where college is mere pinpoint on their horizons, if at all. Ah Bok (Jason Chow) is one of these students, a disrespectful, self-centered youth who many would be quick to label as a menace to society. In one scene, he recounts an episode of vandalism and theft with casual swagger. Fat Yin (Hui Ho-Yin) is similarly flaunting of authority and enjoys the attention he gets as the resident bad kid. Not all cast mates are troublemakers. Lead star Coby and supporting players Tab and Wing-Wing are well behaved but share similar feelings of inadequacy.

Tsz-Nok and Sio-Fan, meanwhile, face different challenges. Both are students at Ebenezer School for the Blind and must navigate countless musical dance numbers for their performance. But these immediate difficulties fade when compared to their lack of opportunities after graduation. Additionally, Tsz-Nok, who lost his sight a year ago, must contend with his family’s shame and inability to accept his condition, even if he is resolved to move forward.

This movie reminds me of Give Them a Chance, a minor 2003 film also based on a true story about disadvantaged kids. Both are feel-good films that throw light on young people who are limited by class, education, or disability. This one, of course, tries for a lot more. While Oscar-winning director Ruby Yang crafts an uplifting story, she subtly asks why Hong Kong’s youth feel pushed to the margins.

The answer does not fall on usual culprits. Ah Bok and Fat Yin come from very loving families. This isn’t a film populated by drug abusers and alcoholics or by single parents beating their children. Their teachers and principals are equally dedicated, heroic in their willingness to put full faith in students who no one else wants. When the teens begin rehearsing, they also find that the creative team behind the musical is unrelenting in their expectation of success.

Instead, the film nudges its audience to consider what we as a society want from our young people. Is there really no room for anything except academic achievement? Are we unwilling to recognize the broad gifts and aspirations of all of Hong Kong’s youth? That includes Wing-Wing who is a new immigrant from the Mainland, not to mention the thousands of ethnic minority children deserving of their own film. This is what makes the movie so special. Absent opportunities to achieve a feeling of self-worth and accomplishment outside the academic system, this musical production and documentary give Hong Kong youth a voice, and it’s a beautiful one.

Promotional clip for the musical:

Released: 2014
Prod: Ruby Yang 楊紫燁
Dir: Ruby Yang 楊紫燁
Cast: Jason Chow 周遜博; Lin Tsz-Nok 練子諾; Tabitha Chan 陳曉恩; Hui Ho-Yin 許賀然; Calvin Chu 朱君堯; Lam Sio-Fan 林小芬; Coby Wong 黃希靖; Chan Wing-Wing 陳泳穎; Jessica Kwok 郭鳳怡; Nick Ho 何力高; Ken Kwan 關頌陽; Emily Chung 鍾少雲; Carol Kwong 鄺秀芝; Bella Leung 梁少儀; Fanny Lam 林樊潔芳; Ng Ka-Fung 吳嘉鳳
Time: 91 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2015