Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Floating City (film review)

Even in 2012, there still are denizens of "Asia's World City" 
who live on boats like these and are dependent 
on the sea for their livelihood

Floating City (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2012)
- Yim Ho, director
- Starring Aaron Kwok, Charlie Yeung, Paw Hee Ching, Calvin Cheng, Annie Liu, Josie Ho, Gregory Rivers, etc.

One day before his critically acclaimed 1984 drama, Homecoming, had its first screening as part of the Film Programmes Office's "100 Must See Films" program, Hong Kong New Wave filmmaker Yim Ho's latest film -- and 13th directorial effort to date -- got a general release in Hong Kong cinemas.  Sadly, Floating City doesn't look to have made particularly substantial waves among the Hong Kong film fans.  

Based on works such as Red Dust (which I actually still would rank among my top 10 favorite Hong Kong movies of all time), however, I really do have a lot of time, respect and good feeling for the now 60-year-old filmmaker.  Consequently, I was one of an admitted minority of moviegoers to make a beeline to check out this 2012 drama that's based on and inspired by the true life stories of people who rose from humble beginnings high up the corporate ladder -- with the added twist that they were ethnic Chinese who did managed to do so when Hong Kong was still a British crown colony. 

And while I have to admit to realizing post viewing it that Floating City is not a film that would easily endear itself to many people (for a variety of reasons), it's also true enough that I personally felt touched and moved by its story -- which centers around a man named Bo Wah Chuen (played by a number of different actors -- including as a young man by Calvin Cheng and a more mature adult by Aaron Kwok) who was was conceived as a result of a British sailor's rape of a young Tanka woman, then adopted as a baby and raised as one of their own by (other) Tanka fisherfolk.

As those who know me know full well, the presence of Aaron Kwok in a movie usually would be quite the turn off for me.  For a change, however, I actually didn't think he over-acted at any point in this work.  In addition, I thought the singer-actor displayed a surprising generosity and chemistry in his scenes with such as Charlie Yeung (who played his wife -- and with whom he shared at least one very tender scene that was so very full of love), Paw Hee Ching (who, if truth be told, nearly stole the whole show) and Annie Liu (essaying a role as a confident, cosmopolitan female that required the actress to be comfortable delivering lines both in English and Cantonese).

At the same time though, I have to admit to feeling a bit puzzled by his casting as Bo.  For one thing, Aaron Kwok (rather surprisingly) doesn't seem fluent enough in English to pass for someone whose professional success surely was predicated in no small part on his English proficiency.  For another, even with his hair dyed a shade of red, he just doesn't look "mixed race" (like the role called for) enough to me.

With regards to the issue of "race" (and/or ethnicity): When it's such a dominant theme and factor in the film, surely one also shouldn't push the envelope by casting the Eurasian (in real life) Josie Ho as a Tanka fisherwoman, not least one who morphs in her later years into Paw Hee Ching?!  On a more positive note: I was happy to see that not all white people were tarred with the same brush and depicted as (inevitably) racist beings in Floating City -- with the taipan essayed by Gregory Rivers having been infused with an admirable humanity.  Last but not least, I additionally found myself intrigued by the many almost ethnographic touches in the film's sympathetic depictions of the Tanka, a sea-dwelling people who have too often faced much discrimination by the landlubbers who have long been in the majority here in the Fragrant Harbour.

My rating for the film: 8.5


baroness radon said...

This sounds like one I want to see! Thankls for the review.

How come everyone is changing their blog templates around? Something in the stars?

YTSL said...

Hi baroness radon --

From what I know of you, I think "Floating City" would indeed be to your liking.

Re blog templates: I was trying out new looks for my blog and discovered I had accidentally effected a change that I couldn't undo! So decided to make the best of a bad situation and played around until I found a new template that I really liked! ;S

Anonymous said...

Just watched it, What a wonderful movie! Acting is great and characters are well developed. Love the artistic cinematography too!

YTSL said...

Hi "Anonymous" --

I'm glad you liked "Floating City". I find myself thinking about it from time to time -- especially when seeing those fishing cum house boats that still ply the waters in Hong Kong.

Anonymous said...

What is the title of the song in the last scene?
Thank you :-)

YTSL said...

Hi Anonymous #2 --

I'm sorry, it's been a while since I viewed the film so I can't remember the song from the last scene! If anyone reading this knows, please share...