I admit that I was cynically worried that the Academy would give a nomination to the mediocre entry from China, The Flowers of War, just because it would attract a huge following of the Academy Awards in the growing Chinese market. Thankfully, my fears were unwarranted. However, China is actually allowed to enter two films because Hong Kong, although part of China, is considered a separate entity.
This year’s Hong Kong contender, A Simple Life (Tao jie) is the poignant tale of Ah Tao, an elderly servant who has spent her entire life taking care of four generations of a single family. Now, in her declining years, she is responsible for bachelor film producer Roger Leung. When An Tao suffers a stroke, she chooses to retire to an old-age home. Roger, without the slightest resentment, reverses roles and takes responsibility for helping his former servant. But the story is really An Tao’s. A curious person despite her limited experience in life, she becomes involved in the lives of the other residents of the home. This could have been a maudlin view of class differences and growing old, but the leads, played by Deannie Yip, who won the best actress award at the Venice Film Festival, and big-time star Andy Lau, act like real people, and director Ann Hui scrupulously avoids excess sentimentality.