THE WAY WE ARE (Ann Hui, 2008)

Hong Kong writer-director Ann Hui’s Tin shui wai dik yat yu ye—literally, Days and Nights of Tin Shui Wai, but called in the U.S. The Way We Are—opens with a series of archæological black-and-white images. The first two photographs are of a butterfly, Nature’s flitting soul of evanescence. But here the butterfly is without motion, and the circumstance is incongruous, unsettling. Another snapshot, of a marsh or swamp, dissolves into a color shot of a field. A train introduces motion. The camera crosses the field to enter an apartment: part of the urban present that has replaced the past. On this summer morning, a woman leaves the apartment. We see a closeup of a sleeping teenager: an exquisitely pretty girl, an earring sparkling in her visible ear. This is On. She is not the woman’s daughter; he, it turns out, is the woman’s son. The woman, Kwai, is a widow (Paw Hee Ching, magnificent); On refers to himself by his full name, Cheung Ka On, as a way of holding onto his father’s memory.
     On, loving and amiably helpful to family, is in a holding pattern. He has just graduated high school and is awaiting his final exam grade, which will determine whether he proceeds to higher education or a job. Meanwhile, Kwai works in the produce department of a supermarket. She supports herself and On and has helped pay for the education abroad of her brothers. She also does what she can to alleviate the hardship and poverty of an older co-worker, “Granny.”
     With documentary detail, Hui’s film seems to observe human lives and make emotional disclosures patiently, gradually. Hui’s characters in the City of Sadness are kind, decent, caring.
     Best film, director and actress from the Hong Kong critics.

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