Dir: Fruit Chan. Hong Kong. 2000. 105 mins.
Prod cos: Nicetop Independent Ltd, Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Worldwide distribution: Wild Bunch (Le Studio Canal Plus), tel: (33) 1 4443 9800. Exec prods: Doris Yang, Makoto Ueda. Scr: Fruit Chan. DoP: Wah-Chuen Lam. Ed: Sam-Fat Tin. Mus: Wah-Chuen Lam, Hing-Cheung Chu. Main cast: Yuet-Ming Yiu, Wai-Fan Mak, Yuet-Man Mak, Gary Lai, Robby Cheung.
The comic and the tragic are smoothly interwoven in Fruit Chan's realist, documentary-style tale of the bittersweet adventures and mysteries of childhood. The third in Chan's trilogy about the 1997 hand-over of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese, Little Cheung is a delicate if sometimes uneven depiction of the political changes through the eyes of a tenacious child. Played by newcomer Yuet-Ming Yiu, Little Cheung is a nine-year old boy trying to make out the complexities of life in a world where, according to him, all anyone ever thinks about is money.
Little Cheung works in his father's restaurant after school making deliveries in a neighbourhood under constant threat by a frustrated, would be-Mafia gangster. He is more attached to his grandmother, an ex-movie star, and her Philippine maid than to his parents, and finds his first love and a best friend in a neighbourhood girl, Fan, an illegal Chinese immigrant who taunts him that Hong Kong will soon be 'theirs' again. All the while he searches for an older brother he never knew, who was thrown out of the house after joining a Mafia gang before Cheung was born.
Politics are rarely addressed directly, or even deeply, in Little Cheung. This film belongs entirely to the diminutive Yiu, who gives a stunningly courageous and spontaneous performance amid a strong cast. Unfortunately, some of the subtler comic moments are thrown off-balance by cruder, Dumb And Dumber-style running jokes that include a bloody tampon and urine-filled tea.
The film received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, but is unlikely to be seen outside the arthouse circuit as it lacks a tightly-enough woven narrative to make it into a universal hit.