The Way We Are (2008) / 天水圍的日與夜

Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Theme: Family/Aging
Runtime: 90 minutes
Director: Ann Hui
Starring: Paw Hee-Ching, Leung Chun-lung, Idy Chan, Chan Lai-wun, Vincent Chui, Clifton Ko

Ratings: IMDB: 7.1/10

Film Festivals:
NIL

Awards:
2009 Hong Kong Film Awards: Best Director, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress
2009 Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress

The Way We Are (2008) is a docu-drama that is unglamorous but is ultimately reality. It offers a respectful and charmingly tranquil portrait of everyday people set in Tin Tsui Wai, a Northwestern New Territories town that has a notoriously bad reputation, being plagued with widespread unemployment, domestic violence, suicide and triad activites ever since its emergence in the 1990s. In October 2007, a mother and her two children leapt from a high-rise housing apartment block, which sparked off negative attention in both the media and general public. The district was branded the “City of Sadness”, and has been a subject in many films such as Lawrence Lau’s Besieged City (2007). But the latter has also been chided for sensationalizing the city’s woes. As a result, Ann Hui made this film so as to bring out the more humane side of Tin Tsui Wai, focusing instead on the everyday residents who contribute to community. As Kozo (2008) writes, The Way We Are “gives voice to these less sensational residents of Tin Shui Wai, and manages to give their lives weight and depth, while not glorifying their working-class honesty … It is not didactic or moralizing. It’s just real, in all its sense, mundane everyday glory.”

This film revolves around the lives of Mrs Cheung, her son Ka-On and their elderly neighbor. A simple story about regular people, the director breathes credibility and affection into the lives of the characters by not overdoing things. Even the most mundane of everyday activities such as sitting at the table and having a meal is documented to great detail. There are no obvious attempts to overhype or dramatize the film unnecessarily through deliberately crafted music or scenes. Instead, we get the characters themselves reacting naturally, in what we ourselves will do when we are placed in situations like these, i.e. having a conversation at the dinner table, buying food at the market. The bulk of the film consists of eating and food scenes. But why? What does eating symbolize? The dining table might be a good place to convey certain messages, while most of the crucial conversations among family members also happen around a dining table as people catch up with one another’s lives.

In the film, there is no tragedy, no emotional outbursts, no violence nor dramatic confrontations. Furthermore, diagetic noise, for instance background noises of the market or restaurant, was incorporated in several scenes to enhance the realism of them. You feel like you are actually there, you sense yourself being brought into the lives of the characters. It is jarring. It is in your face. But it is real. Even the colours used are muted, realistic and desaturated. This reflects the mundane but realistic scene of everyday life.

The use of close-up shots add to the realism of the scenes, it almost feels as though we are in the house and at the table with the characters themselves, and this bridges the distance between viewers and the characters. But a lack of a distinct story arc and climactic plot means that “this is a movie in which, by the standards of traditional dramaturgy, nothing happens” (Thompson & Bordwell, 2008).

Thompson and Bordwell (2008) goes further to suggest that “Ann Hui has created perhaps Hong Kong’s closest equivalent to Ozu” in this film that pragmatically presents life in its most down-to-earth form. It engages our sympathies fully. To each his own, each of the directors has his/her own distinct aesthetic. While The Way We Are lacks Ozu’s practice of mirroring situations with an unrivalled attention in color design and auditory motifs, Ann Hui’s straightforward, long takes normalizes the goings-on on camera, as if it is really unfolding before one’es eyes in a “delicate search for human kindness in the commonplace” (Thompson & Bordwell, 2008) that goes back to basics.

References

Kozo (2008). The Way We Are – Love HK Film.com. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews_2/way_we_are.html.

Thompson, K., and Bordwell, D. (2008, March 30). Observations on film art. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/?p=2144

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