A Simple Life (4 stars)

A Simple Life

The true life story of a film producer who becomes carer to his elderly maid is compassionate and insightful

Hong Kong’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards is a paen to the aged and to caring for the old that avoids the obvious pitfalls of its tender subject matter by being compassionate but never sentimental, heartfelt but not tear-jerking and at once very funny and deeply moving.

Co-written with Susan Chan by film producer Yan-Iam Lee, who based the script on his own experiences, A Simple Life is directed by veteran filmmaker Ann Hui. It concerns the relationship between an elderly servant Ah Tao (Deannie Ip) and her employer, a successful film producer named Roger (Andy Lau, Ip’s real-life godson). Ah has served Roger’s family for four decades, and since they have emigrated to America, she has remained in service as maid to the family’s youngest son, living with Roger in his modest Hong Kong apartment. Following a stroke, however, Ah announces she wants to retire and live out her remaining days in a nursing home. But, as the old woman’s health further deteriorates, Roger begins to look after her, and the single professional man becomes a devoted carer.

Given UK film-goers are most likely to be familiar with Lau as the star of the martial arts film House of Flying Daggers or the cops and crooks thriller Infernal Affairs, the Asian actor’s appearance in this low-key, non-genre film is likely to be something of a revelation. In fact, Lau began his acting career with Hui, who directed him in 1982’s Boat People, and he’s also appeared with Ip in a number of dramas in which they have played mother and son. It’s unsurprising, then, that Lau and Ip make for an excellent odd couple. A Simple Life also includes several cameo appearances by Hong Kong filmmakers (and there’s a nice sly nod to Wong Kar Wai), which, for Lee (and for the audience) is the icing on the cake.

On selected release now.

A Simple Life - (2011) Trailer

A Simple Life (Tao jie)

  • 2011
  • Hong Kong
  • 1h 58min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Ann Hui
  • Cast: Andy Lau, Deannie Yip, Lawrence Ah Mon
  • UK release: 3 August 2012

After a maid suffers a stroke, she quits her job to move to a retirement home. Jackie Chan's former collaborator Sammo Hung appears in this Hong Kong family drama.