The Hong Kong film A Simple Life (Tao Jie) marks actor Andy Lau and actress Deanie Ip's third collaboration, after 1999's Prince Charming and 1988's The Truth. Their combined onscreen power was reaffirmed when both took home prizes -- for Best Actor and Best Actress -- at Taiwan's Golden Horse Awards this past weekend on November 26.
Directed by Ann Hui (who also won a Golden Horse Award for Best Director), A Simple Life is inspired by a true story of Hong Kong film producer, Roger Lee, and his family's servant, Sister Tao, who raised him since he was born. The film's $5.4 million production, considered a fairly low budget for a film, achieves an emotional richness that exceeds its monetary value. Unlike many commercial films in Hong Kong, this film is very sincere and straightforward, not relying on big dramatic moments or clichéd plots. Instead, we see the quiet way Sister Tao lives her last few years, and the film focuses on the relationship between Roger and Lee and Sister Tao, who have a close bond comparable to that of a mother and son. Sister Tao had served Lee's family for four generations, ever since she was thirteen years old, and now, in her old age, the caretaker-child roles have been reversed.
Ip plays a character that is 15 years older than she is in real life, and her portrayal of the aging Sister Tao -- which also earned her the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year -- is natural and flawless. Even though A Simple Life is technically a non-commercial production, director Ann Hui's cast includes veteran actors and actresses such as Qin Hai Lu, Anthony Wong, and veteran director Tsui Hark. Many celebrity cameos were possible because Lau's character works in the entertainment industry.
In addition to the heartwarming story between the main characters, the film also follows various elderly characters in the retirement home, which not only reflects the touching reality of life and death but also highlights a common side of Hong Kong that many people do not know. This snippet of everyday human existance resonates especially because these types of stories are rarely seen in films from Hong Kong.
A Simple Life played at the 2011 American Film Market and the 2011 Chinese American Film Festival.