"After an elderly maid for a Hong Kong film producer has a stroke, he finds a nursing home for her to move into," begins Shelly Kraicer in Cinema Scope. "With that simple premise, based on the real life story of producer Roger Lee and his actual family's amah Chung Chun-tao (aka Ah Tao), Hong Kong director Ann Hui has crafted one of her greatest films. This low-key masterpiece of almost documentary realism features big stars and non-professionals: king of Hong Kong cinema Andy Lau plays Roger and the remarkable actress Deannie Yip plays Ah Tao, while the home's elderly residents play themselves…. Ann Hui's brilliant filmography extends back to 1979, and this new work instantly earns pride of place as one of its glories."
"A Simple Life is loaded with cameos by celebrities from Hong Kong's action-packed cinema including martial-arts legends Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung," notes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "But, as the title implies, the movie is a world away from its violent extravaganzas…. Susan Chan and Roger Lee's script is a bittersweet, unmistakably heartfelt look at ties between people who aren't blood relations but who have in effect a mother/son bond. The film is a pretty smooth technical package with crisply high-definition cinematography from Yu Lik Wai — best known for his rather more ambitiously challenging work with Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke — a consistent plus. His clear, direct images suit a movie which thankfully eschews the easy route of heavy-handed tear-jerking: Ah Tao, a sparky, no-nonsense old bird, would surely have approved."
"At times it is all a bit cloying and too prettily organised, the saving grace being the presence of veteran Hong Kong actress Deanie Ip, who walks naturally through the part, without any effort," finds Dan Fainaru in Screen.
For Manolis at the Film Experience, the "tender story has broad appeal but breaks no new ground and begins to drag towards the end."
TIFF programmer Giovanna Fulvi: "Delivering what may be the best performances of their careers, Lau and Ip display perfect chemistry and restraint as two people who have known each other all their lives. Affecting but never sentimental, A Simple Life is undoubtedly one of Hui's best films to date."
It just so happens that the Austin Film Society's series Days and Nights of Being Wild: Hong Kong New Wave Cinema opens tonight. In her overview for the Chronicle, Kimberley Jones writes: "A first-generation New Wave filmmaker, Hui started in television and moved into features in the late 70s. She's tackled just about every genre under the sun, but the autobiographical Song of the Exile [screening September 20] is a straightforward, quietly affecting family drama. Maggie Cheung stars as Hui's surrogate, Hueyin, a young woman educated in the UK. At the film's beginning, set in the 70s, Hueyin reluctantly returns home to Hong Kong to take care of her widowed mother (played by Tan Lang Jachi Tian), who immigrated after the second Sino-Japanese War. Hueyin then accompanies her mother to her native Japan, and there — unable to speak the language, an odd duck in bell-bottomed jeans — she slowly awakens to the helplessness of cultural alienation that bedeviled her mother, the exile, for so many years."
Updates, 9/7: "The picture is surprisingly unsentimental," writes Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, "and Hui has a gift for zeroing in on the telling detail. In one sequence, we watch as Au Tao prepares to attend a movie premiere with Roger: She puts on her nicest clothes — simple items that have clearly been cared for and treasured for years — and slips two modest gold and jade rings on her fingers. She takes out a tube of lipstick that's almost completely worn down — this, too, may have been cherished for years — and in a moment that speaks volumes about the complex relationship between economy and vanity among the aged, smudges a bit on her lips with her fingers."
"One particularly sly scene features a director in shades who could only be a stand-in for Wong Kar Wai," notes Justin Chang in Variety. "The Chinese cinema in-jokes, however, are merely peripheral to the film's straightforward story… The final scenes scrupulously avoid milking the situation for pathos, and are played with the warm, forthright emotion typical of the story as a whole."
A Simple Life is competing in Venice and will be a Special Presentation in Toronto. If you're headed to Toronto, tiffr is a simple yet powerful way to schedule your festival. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.