Anita Yuen Wing-Yee

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father! (新難兄難弟)

he aint heavy hes my father

“One for all and all for one!” is a phrase we don’t hear much of these days, outside of the latest Three Musketeers adaptation, but it was once the go-to slogan of Union Film (translated from the Chinese「人人為我,我為人人.」), the studio that dominated Hong Kong’s post-war cinema and boasted some of the greatest screen talents in the city’s history. Through its varied productions, Union was best known for promoting a sense of community. Their films were populated by people who shared each others’ joys and hardships and who united with a can-do spirit. As for those greedy, self-interested folks who sacrificed the common good just to improve their own lot, there was always a comeuppance, for compassion wins out in the end.

A look around today’s Hong Kong explains why people feel nostalgia for that past. The unceasing pursuit of wealth, the win at all costs mentality, the shameless materialism – it’s not the most humanizing set of values. Although He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Father! is already 20 years old, it continues to speak to the disillusionment that economic prosperity brings. That Peter Chan and Lee Chi-Ngai firmly tie their work to the Union tradition is doubly satisfying for Hong Kong film history fans like myself.

In general, the plot mirrors those of many older movies and revolves around Cho-Fan (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a boisterous young man whose generosity earns him the respect of everyone in his neighborhood. Well, it also revolves around Chor Yuen (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), Cho-Fan’s money-loving son. He hops back in time thanks to some Mid-Autumn Festival magic and tries to understand his overly charitable father, with whom he never got along. In addition, he meets his mother, Laura (Carina Lau), a woman willing to sacrifice her considerable inheritance for the man she loves. Family relations are complicated when Chor Yuen and his grandfather, Lord Watson (actual Chor Yuen), conspire to earn a tidy profit off the down-and-out residents of Memory Lane.

There are plenty of familiar scenes and archetypes, which you’ll recognize especially if you’ve seen the classic In the Face of Demolition (危樓春曉), one of the Hong Kong Film Archive’s 100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies. Other tenants include Ah Chuen (Lawrence Cheng) whose gambling addiction threatens to destroy his family and Lynn (Anita Yuen), the good-hearted girl with bad luck who becomes the object of Chor Yuen’s affections. Plus, plenty of minor characters glide in and out, with a young, and poor, Li Ka-Shing (Waise Lee) getting particular attention. However, no matter one’s status or difficulty – and there are plenty, all are drawn by the comfort that they’re in it together. No one ends up abandoned.

Most of the names are cribbed from those of real actors, and some of the parts correspond to the onscreen persona of their namesakes. Lynn, for example, substitutes as Tsi Lo-Lin who often played gentle female roles. Yuen slips perfectly into character. Meanwhile, the broad chested Ng Cho-Fan, Union’s great moralizer is responsible for immortalizing the “All for one…” line in In the Face of Demolition. It’s a scene Ka-Fai, who has a tendency for the dramatic, replicates with gusto. He brings out Cho-Fan’s booming personality in grand fashion and has the lean look of a steady pillar amidst social chaos.

There are a couple father-son combos as well, Lee Hoi-Chuen and Lee Siu-Long being the most famous. Chuen, the elder, was a popular actor whose son, better known as Bruce Lee, also had an acting gig or two. Another Union regular who often played the reticent, learned type was Cheung Wood-Yau, and he appears in the same manner here. The meta moment occurs when his son, director Chor Yuen (who was mentored by the great director Ng Wui), is introduced to Chiu-Wai’s character.

Some might find this endless self-referencing tiresome, but it works as more than a cheap gag. The film lacks the black and white seriousness of its predecessors and instead relies on comedy to achieve a similar effect. By recalling Union’s films so closely, the movie manages to absorb some of those values. He Ain’t Heavy definitely wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s more than the sum of its gimmicks though and earns its emotional payoff. Lau is a delightfully spirited Laura, and it’s easy to see why Cho-Fan is charmed by her. Chor Yuen’s warmth towards his father and Cho-Fan’s love for the man he doesn’t realize is his son also create some truly touching moments. Unlike recent Chinese New Year hits that similarly try to elevate community over the individual, the climax of this movie doesn’t swell with melodrama. And I can’t argue with a film that says we need to look out for each other.

“Tell Laura I Love Her” by Tony Leung and Tony Leung:

Released: 1993
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Claudie Chung 鍾珍
Dir: Peter Chan 陳可辛; Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Writer: Lee Chi-Ngai 李志毅
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Carina Lau 劉嘉玲; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Lawrence Cheng 鄭丹瑞; Helen Yung 翁杏蘭; Anita Lee 李婉華; Chor Yuen 楚原; Pang Mei-Seung 彭美嫦; Michael Chow 周文健; Waise Lee 李子雄; Lawrence Ng 吳啟華
Time: 98 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

The Days of Being Dumb (亞飛與亞基)

days of being dumb

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Jacky Cheung prove their acting mettle by playing the lousiest gangsters ever in the comedy The Days of Being Dumb – not at all to be confused with Wong Kar-Wai’s Very Serious Drama The Days of Being Wild, which also featured both actors. In a massive gang fight, childhood buds Fred (Leung) and Keith (Cheung) are the ones who end up defending themselves with a steak knife and a can opener. Besides the fact that they talk a bigger game than they play, they also have the lousy habit of accidentally getting their their bosses killed. It’s not long before word gets around that these guys are poison, and no one wants to take them under.

Their never-say-die attitude doesn’t stop this pair from trying, however. “There are more triad gangs than cinemas,” Fred reasons. Eventually, Gold-Teeth Shing (Billy Ching) sets them up with a legitimate business, which seems the safest option for Hong Kong’s gangland. They think they are running a modeling company but soon discover that they’re just overseeing a pipeline of prostitutes. Lesbian Jane (Anita Yuen, in an award winning role) is their first, and only, charge and later becomes victim to Hong Kong’s tendency to gay away onscreen homosexuality when she begins to develop feelings for Fred.

Thankfully Boss Kwan (Ken Tong) rescues them from the lurid business and initiates them into his gang. Facing trouble from the authorities as well as the underworld, he takes this gutsy step in an attempt to defy fate and prove that he fears no one if he does not fear death. Kwan dangles his milk-drinking gangsters around like a good luck charm, and it seems the boys have finally found their place in life – until they go and screw things up again.

The hilarious script is rubber stamped with trademark Hong Kong inanity and offers a countermeasure to the puffed up triads who usually grace the screens. Fred and Keith – the most innocuous names for a pair of gangsters – mimic the bluster of their cinematic counterparts with amusing results. Their efforts work especially well thanks to Leung and Cheung, who give their picaresque heroes a tender and affable quality. The characters aren’t stand-up citizens, but they have a conscience and a strong sense of friendship behind their juvenile eagerness to be a part of something greater.

“Crushing on You” (暗戀你) by Jacky Cheung:

Released: 1992
Prod: Peter Chan 陳可辛
Dir: Blacky Ko 柯受良
Writer: Joe Ma 馬偉豪; James Yuen 阮世生; Cheung Chi-Sing 張志成
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai 梁朝偉; Jacky Cheung 張學友; Kent Tong 湯鎮業; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Luk Kim-Ming 陸劍明; Chan Chi-Fai 陳志輝; Billy Ching 程守一
Time: 92 min
Lang: Cantonese, some English
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014

I Love Hong Kong (我愛HK開心萬歲)

i love hk

I Love Hong Kong lives up to its title, showing great holiday affection for the city and the salt of the earth folks who live there. A respectable follow-up to the previous Chinese New Year’s hit 72 Tenants of Prosperity, this movie delivers a warmhearted message about community that comes wrapped in layers of laughter, nostalgia, and product placement. This TVB production is also top heavy with local television actors, but the station opts for true screen stars Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Sandra Ng to generate a hefty festive buzz.

Leung and Ng play parents to Ming (Aarif Lee), Chi (Mag Lam), and King (Chan Wing-Lam), and life is all fun and games until hard economic times brings big changes to their lives. Shun, a toy manufacturer, finds his factory shut down, so he decides to move the family back to the public housing estate where his father (Stanley Fung) still lives. But this ends up literally cramping everyone’s style.

Though Shun praises the virtues of being close to extended family and having trustworthy estate friends nearby, no one cares for this arrangement. Shun’s Wife (she doesn’t have a name but is simply known as ‘Shun’s wife’) escapes by returning to work at a beauty clinic, only to find herself demoted and taking orders from a haughty and much younger, taller, slimmer superior (Koni Lui). His son, a cog in the Food and Health Department machine, objects to living next to the stall owners he’s tasked with reprimanding, and even Shun’s father prefers having his flat to himself, where he has space enough for two TVs – a bigger one for TVB and a smaller one for that other station.

It’s Shun’s turn to feel upset though when his former friend Lung (Eric Tsang) reappears. He still holds a grudge from their youth after some funds went missing and wonders if Lung is just here to pull another scam or if he really wants to help out the struggling tenants. The power of flashback not only fleshes out their relationship and helps the audience appreciate the values of council estate living, it also gives a boatload of fresh faced TVB actors a chance to play younger versions of the characters (Bosco Wong as Shun, Wong Cho-Lam as Lung, Kate Tsui and Joyce Cheng as the bread store twins).

The gimmick aids plot development but also strengthens the message of Hong Kongers coming together to fight off the wealthy and corrupt, something we apparently did better thirty years ago. By the time the movie reaches its forced climax, you’ll be cheering on the small potatoes of this idyllic housing estate as they take on officials and developers who threaten their community and simple way of life. Hell, you might even want to live in a housing estate after you see their polished quarters. Zany side plots made funnier with a knowledge of Cantonese and Hong Kong gossip top off this stocking stuffer of a film, but the overall effort works regardless. It’s one you won’t mind revisiting next Chinese New Year’s.

“Always Friends” (始終都係朋友好) performed by the cast:

“I Love Hong Kong” performed by Aarif Lee and Mag Lam. Video not available but inspired by “Kowloon, Hong Kong” by the Reynettes:

Released: 2011
Prod: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Jason Siu 邵劍秋
Dir: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Eric Tsang 曾志偉
Writer: Chung Shu-Kai 鍾澍佳; Helward Mak 麥曦茵; Wong Yeung-Tat 黃洋達
Cast: Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Tony Leung Ka-Fai 梁家輝; Sandra Ng 吳君如; Aarif Lee 李治廷; Mag Lam 林欣彤; Chan Wing-Lam 陳穎嵐; Stanley Fung 馮淬帆; Anita Yuen 袁詠儀; Fala Chen 陳法拉; Wu Ma 午馬; Wong Cho-Lam 王祖藍; Bosco Wong 黃宗澤; Jess Shum 沈卓盈; Liu Kai-Chi 廖啟智; Wayne Lai 黎耀祥; Maggie Cheung Ho-Yee 張可頤; Alfred Cheung 張堅庭; Louis Yuen 阮兆祥; Michelle Lo 盧覓雪; Kate Tsui 徐子珊 Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜; JJ Jia 賈曉晨; Koni Lui 呂慧儀; Jeannette Leung 梁政玨; Siu Yam-Yam 邵音音; Evergreen Mak 麥長青; 6 Wing 陸永; Tenky Tin 田啟文; Lam Suet 林雪; Raymond Wong 黃浩然; Otto Wong 王志安; Eddie Pang 彭懷安; Jim Chim 詹瑞文; Samantha Ko 高海寧; Felix Wong 黃日華; Michael Miu 苗僑偉; Mak Ling-Ling 麥玲玲; Pierre Ngo 敖嘉年; Christine Kuo 苟芸慧; Terence Tsui 小肥; Hui Siu-Hung 許紹雄; and a LOT more
Time: 104 min
Lang: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2014