A Simple Life Blu-ray Review
Occasionally a film carrying the moniker of “based on a true story” is produced and directed like it was actually based on a true story. It’s easy for any seasoned connoisseur of cinema to separate the faithful from the embellished. Not to demean the tool of “artistic license” in even the slightest integer, but with modern culture currently soaking in a fantasy laden marinade, a film like A SIMPLE LIFE can act as a refreshing palette cleanser, refocusing on the core of the most important and primal aspects of human nature.
The Leung family has employed Ah Tao (Deannie Yip) as their maid for over 60 years. As the family gradually migrated over to the U.S., ultimately Roger (Andy Lau) became the last remaining member still living in Hong Kong and Ah Tao’s sole master. Roger literally does not know a life without Ah Tao as she was his family’s servant before he was even born, which led him to a very natural state of complacency. Ah Tao has always been there for him, cleaning his clothes, preparing his meals and even nursing him back to health after suffering a heart attack at a young age. However, when it is Ah Tao who is struck with illness, the true depth of what she means to Roger and his family is finally revealed to even themselves as it is now their turn to take care of her.
Director Ann Hui was beyond successful in her attempt to deliver a gentle story about two people who greatly depend on each other at different stages of their lives. Roger, who is a successful movie producer, has allowed Ah Tao’s omnipresence in his life to lull him into taking her for granted, but never to a place of disrespect. Ah Tao’s service to Roger and his family is not just her life’s work, but also her source of fulfillment as a pseudo mother and family member, something she was robbed of as a young orphan. At first glance, their relationship looks very much like it would to any outsider, that of a servant and a master. But as Ann Hui surgically lets the viewer into their lives in small increments by way of a minimalist style and allowing scenes to develop at a real-world pace, it is revealed just how plentiful the well of admiration and even love that is contained on both sides.
The performances of Andy Lau and Deannie Yip are a perfect 1:1 match for the pace set by their director. Lau and Yip keep a steady tone throughout the film, never getting too high or too low, even when the circumstances are bleak. This is a more realistic approach as people who face impending hardships on a daily basis hardly tend to reach the dramatic heights of Hollywood produced expectations. And in that same vein, the humor between the characters is equally superb due to clever writing that naturally crowbars in some smiles during unexpected moments.
A SIMPLE LIFE is genuinely a simple film, but not in the way of poor character development or shaky plot structure. In fact, those two usual pillars of any script are not really of any consequence in this endeavor. The true power this film wields is appropriately simplistic; no major revelations or epic plot twists are needed to convey how humans are not only capable of matching our destructive tendencies with compassion and generosity, but at our best even our darkest corners of the behavioral spectrum can be outweighed by the sheer magnitude of our altruistic humanity.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen, 1080p/AVC MPEG-4: Video quality on this disc is inconspicuously good. The sharpness is there, but the colors are purposefully muted, rendering the appropriate tone of life in a nursing home and dealing with the harshness of mortality. However, the balancing of this technique is done quite well as the film never really lets the mood fall into a pit of depression. Outdoor scenes are reminiscent of a Polaroid, or Instagram for the youngsters, feel and lean more to a state of reminiscing than melancholy.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1: Dialogue is of the most importance in a low-key film like this, and if you’re only using the subtitles anyway it’s even less pertinent. However the sound is very well rendered, keeping voices clear in low registers and filtering out just enough background noise to keep the simplistic nature of the film intact but keeping the “silence” loud enough to maintain the feel of a professional production.
There are no bonus features on the disc.
This is unfortunate because it would have been very interesting to hear how the lead characters formed their incredibly natural chemistry on set.