A Simple Life ★★★★½

To state it simply, Ann Hui’s A Simple Life is touching, honest, charming, joyful, and refreshingly uncomplicated. I never thought I’d say this, but by comparison Michael Heneke’s Amour, which tells a somewhat similar story, feels like a melodrama.

Based on the true life experience of producer / writer Roger Lee Yam-lan, A Simple Life tells the story of beloved family maid, Ah Tao, who suffers a minor stroke. Although not incapacitated, the event signals a sea-change for her. After 60 years of service and four generations of family, it’s time to retire. Insisting that she not be a burden, she chooses to move into an elder home to live out her final years. Refusing to accept money that would allow for a more comfortable facility, she insists on selecting a more modest option that is within her own means.

What follows is the story of Ah Tao and Roger, her now middle aged charge, and their time together in this next and final phase of her life. Director Ann Hui slowly reveals these two gentle souls to us through reminiscences, as well as their genuine love and respect for one another. There’s no plot, no drama, no tugged heartstrings, just a wonderful relationship that’s filled with stories and love and laughter.

Andy Lau, as the somewhat successful film producer Roger, gives a great performance, as usual. Lau has a particular talent for playing a quiet, modest, but strong character and he fits this role like a glove. Make no mistake, this is Deannie Ip’s film, though. Her humble Ah Tao is completely disarming. She exudes grace and wisdom with just a simple look in her eyes.

Seeing a film such as this is simply uplifting; it’s not just the wonderful performances and naturalistic story, but rather that a film with so little traditional structure and narrative can succeed so well. A wonderful gem.