Dir: Ann Hui. Chi. 2006. 113mins.
A slapstick comedy opening leads to a melancholy and melodramaticending in Ann Hui's The Post Modern Life Of My Aunt, which is tailoredto please home audiences and Chinese communities abroad but will hold limitedinterest beyond that. Conceived as an episode piece that shifts from a lightmood to a crepuscular one, Hui's picture pays as muchattention to the new face of the Shanghai as it does its heroine (played byMongolian actress Siqin Gaowa)who is trying to fend for herself on the city streets.
Working with a cast thatfeatures several popular Chinese stars, including legendary Chow Yun fat, Hui summons up alightweight and entertaining but over-long andself-indulgent portrait of life in China's second most populated city. BTW: themention of "post modern" in the title has less to do with a cultural movementand more with the generation gap which makes life in a contemporary Chinesemetropolis challenging for older generations.
The name of the veteran HongKong director is sure to ensure it reaches a certain number of festival datesafter appearing in Toronto, but in the grand scheme of things this may well bejudged one of Hui's more minor works.
Mrs Ye (SiqinGaowa), a lively and exemplary educated citizen, ishaving a tough time of it, with her friends, her family and all the crooks andconfidence men around her. There is also her neighbour, Mrs Shui(Lisa Lu), a dowager her own age, who drives everybody mad with her oldfashioned songs and her spoiled cat wrapped up in laces.
The first time the camera catchesMrs Ye she is marching through Shanghai train station, holding an open umbrellaand hollering the name of her nephew, who has been dispatched to her care. Onlywhen the crowds thin and she taps his shoulder does the 12-year-old boy, oneleg in a cast and walking on crutches, acknowledge her and accompany her home.
It soon becomes clear thataunt and nephew are not going to hit it off, and before long the young rascalengineers his own kidnapping, asking a ransom in exchange for his release. Thisis the first of three different attempts to swindle Mrs Ye out of her savings.
Then there is the slightlyseedy conman, Pan (Chow Yun fat) who first pockets asmall sum of money and disappears. He then returns, sweeps Mrs Ye off her feet, eats her food and then involves her in a cemetery plotscam, into which she foolishly puts all her assets.
There is also a peasantwoman, Jin Yonghua (Shi Ke)who asks Mrs Ye for help, claiming she has been beaten up by her employer and thatshe needs money to care for her little girl in hospital. Mrs Ye, despite her suspicions,is once again duped. Cheated and frustrated, she falls down a flight of stairsand is herself hospitalised. Only then does the film reveal her less thanadmirable past and introduces her grown-up daughter, Dafan(Vicky Zhao Wei), who comes in to take mother back toher departure point.
If all this sounds needlesslycomplicated and contrived then that's because it is. The plot is not botheredby problems like lack of plausibility and, despite losing some 15 minutesbetween when it was programmed (129 minutes in the Toronto catalogue) and itsactual screening (114 minutes), it still indulges in unnecessary asides.
Hui takes a high-handed, soap-operatic fashion, with herdivision of the narrative into separate episodes, almost suggesting that thismight have been her intention all along. She invites her actors to play for thegallery - and they willingly oblige.
Siqin Gaowa makes an appealingeye-rolling Mrs Ye, despite gesticulating a bit toooften. Chow Yun fat has a grand old time being assleazy as can be, while Shi Ke manages to suggestthat despite all appearances, there is a certain pathosin the character she plays.
Two experienced cameramen,Kwan Pun-Leung and Yu Lik-Wai (the regular cinematographerof Venice winner Jia Zhang-ke)provide attractive Shanghai vistas, expertly inserted into the narrative by editor Liao Ching-Song.
Cheerland Entertainment Organization
c/o Cheerland Entertainment
Li Qiang, from the novel by YanYan
Vicky Zhao Wei