True Tin Shui Wai

天水圍日與夜 The Way We Are (2008)

We know every film to a certain extent reflects reality but how much do they really? It has been long till I see one. Ann Hui’s The Way We Are brings us to Tin Shui Wai, after the town frequently appearing on newspaper headlines, earning a name of ‘City of Sadness’.

Ann Hui has been perhaps the most caring director in Hong Kong. Since Woman Forty (1995), and the recent The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2006), fans appreciate the great compassion she has for her characters. Nevertheless, filming The Way We Are is in itself a caring act for Hong Kong. The story sets in Tin Shui Wai, a district widely known for its domestic violence, poverty, suicides, and the dense population of mainly mainlanders. The film opens with a single parent mother. As in her previous films, Hui portrays the female in an understanding yet delicate manner. The mother is diligent, content and easygoing. We do not know her sacrifices until her mother told her grandson, how she dropped school and saved money for her brothers’ education. Even after marriage, she continuously gave financial support to her brothers, while her husband never complained. The son inherited this, and asked the grandma to stop.

The greatness of this ordinary family is not exaggerated or over-amplified, as in most TVB dramas which Hong Kong people grew up with. The subtleness and frankness touched me greatly. This is not just a Tin Shui Wai story, but a Hong Kong story. It is certainly the director’s intention to remind us of the common life that we share with people of Tin Shui Wai. But to us audience, it is more—it prompts us to realize what real life is like. For any film, we must expect the brothers to be ungrateful brats as we see them leading a more luxurious life. They live in mid-levels, when the mother and son are stuck in the public estate after the father passed away. But soon, we found out how they offered to send the son to study abroad. Thankfulness can hardly be shown in everyday life. They all have their own family and lives. It is hard for them to take up the entire duty for taking care of the mother and son. They can only offer little help in critical moments. No one expects them to pay back really, only audience of the theatre, because we are so used to ‘drama’ and its formula. Indeed, in real life, there is no such thing. That’s why I find this film such an honest account. In the only big family gathering in the film, some are silent, some are dissatisfied. No over-joy meetings. Actually this is a genuine Hong Kong family which I haven’t encountered on screen for long, yet it is exactly what I do every weekend. But beneath that normal get-along, love is still there. When most directors try to romanticize or embellish everyday life for drama effect, Hui did the opposite.

And life is actually like that, nothing too bad nothing too good, it just goes on.