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A Simple Life(2011)
Roger is a successful movie producer with a housekeeper, Ah Tao, who has worked for his family over the course of four generations. Ah Tao has been a nanny and maid for Roger's family for nearly all her adult life, and he looks upon her as a member of the family rather than an employee. When Roger comes home one day to discover Ah Tao has suffered a severe stroke, its' clear she's no longer up to the demands of her job, and he agrees to help her relocate to a nursing home. Roger, the only member of his family still living in Hong Kong, is eager to help, but he's unsure of just how much he's supposed to do for her and is afraid to seem neglectful; Ah Tao, on the other hand, doesn't want to be a burden to Roger, and their relationship goes through an awkward period.
For more about A Simple Life and the A Simple Life Blu-ray release, see A Simple Life Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on February 5, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Andy Lau, Deannie Yip
Director: Ann Hui
» See full cast & crew
A Simple Life Blu-ray Review
Simple but profound.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, February 5, 2013
Many of us who are in what is perhaps facetiously called middle age (if average life expectancy is around 80 or so, if you're over 40, you're past middle age, baby) find ourselves caught in a weird netherworld where we are simultaneously caregivers for both our younger children as well as our older parents. One of the ironies of increased life expectancy is that more and more adults in the 30-50+ age range find themselves with two sets of children, so to speak, especially if their parents have become infirm in their supposed "golden years". One of the sad elements of western culture is how we tend to almost shun the elderly, shipping them off to "assisted living centers" or outright nursing facilities. Many other cultures have longstanding traditions that incorporate the elderly into family life, directly at odds with the American tendency to favor "out of sight, out of mind". If you've ever visited a "retirement home" (a euphemism if ever there were one), you've probably no doubt encountered the often times shockingly shabby conditions elders end up residing in toward the end of their lives. In my guise as a musician, I play a lot of retirement homes in and around Portland, and I've joked that I have two lists of facilities that my own kids should have handy, one featuring the more upscale environments where they can at least attempt to place me, kicking and screaming though I'll be, and the second list of decrepit places where they can simply offer me Oregon's well publicized "assisted suicide" first. While some "seniors" are no doubt aware of the indignities this kind of lifestyle forces on them (in spite of some obviously good intentions on the part of some families and indeed of some facilities), there's also a kind of built in denial at times that plays into growing older. Years ago I was playing an extremely luxurious (relatively speaking) retirement home where one of the residents knew me from having sung in a choir that I had conducted for years. She walked up to the piano to talk to me, and I asked her how she was enjoying her new digs. This woman, who was 85 if she were a day, leaned in and conspiratorially said to me, "I hate it! Look at all these people— they're all so old!" But even for those whose eyes are wide open about going gently or otherwise into that good night, old age is as the old saying goes not for the faint of heart. And that's a major running subtext of the slight but touching Chinese film A Simple Life.
A Simple Life is in fact not about parents per se, but instead about a kind of surrogate mother, a long serving maid who has helped a family for four generations. Ah Tao (Deannie Yip) now helps around the house of adult Roger (Andy Lau), a filmmaker who is planning a new production with real life director Tsui Hark and star Sammo Hung, both of whom appear as themselves in the film. Ah Tao has had a somewhat tragic past, as is briefly described in some text that is shown at the very beginning of the film, but that was long, long ago, as Ah Tao is now quite an elderly woman. There's a certain silent rapport between Ah Tao and Roger, one where she almost intuits the needs of her "charge", but things take a dramatic turn when Ah Tao suffers a stroke one day.
A Simple Life then explores the transitions that both of these characters are forced to go through. Ah Tao is of course first consigned to a hospital for the opening salvo of her convalescence, but then the now increasingly frail older woman decides she wants to go to a nursing home, a decision which Roger helps to facilitate. Ah Tao then has to come to grips with this new "style" of living, and it is not an easy transition. Roger himself is also encountering a "whole new world" as he comes to grips with not having Ah Tao around anymore to cater to his needs.
It soon becomes clear that Ah Tao's days are numbered, and that in and of itself causes a whole new set of transitional phases both for the characters individually and in terms of their long relationship. A Simple Life is in fact rather simple on its face, a slow but steady examination of two people coming face to face with what they've meant to and for each other, but the film is also devastatingly profound, albeit in a completely quiet, unassuming way. Anchored by an incredible performance by Deannie Yip as Ah Tao, A Simple Life manages to sum up a lifetime's worth of emotion in some seemingly unobtrusive ways. A look, a touch, a quick laugh—these may seem like minutiae, and in fact probably are, but in the hands of writer Susan Chan (who helped develop the real reminiscences of Chinese film producer Roger Lee) and director Ann Hui, A Simple Life subtly yet inexorably mines the depths of some very deep and heartfelt emotions.
My personal experience with my parents' deaths is perhaps a bit unusual because I came quite late in their lives and so had to deal with their mortality at a perhaps earlier age than a lot of my friends. My own wife for example is still blessed to have her parents around, though they are at the age now where we all realize that time with them is very brief and must be treasured accordingly. Even though A Simple Life doesn't deal ostensibly with a parent-child relationship, there are some very salient similarities in the love shared between Ah Tao and Roger which are in fact quite like that between a mother and a son. Anyone who has ever faced the loss of a loved one will no doubt relate to many of the issues which are raised quietly, but quite remarkably, in this very effective and moving film.
A Simple Life Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Simple Life is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. From the look of the screenshots and the analysis offered by my colleague Dr. Svet Atanasov, this appears to be the same transfer that graced the British Blu-ray release of this film. Those of you who regularly read my reviews know I am not an especially rabid fan of the look of Red One shot features due to the somewhat flat and textureless appearance these features often have (something that some others of you who read my reviews may find odd, since I am relatively untroubled by the moderate use of DNR on some catalog releases). That said, A Simple Life boasts a spectacularly clear and precise looking image with more than abundant fine detail, especially in close-ups (which Hui favors throughout the film). A Simple Life is intentionally rather drab looking quite a bit of the time, with an emphasis on browns and beiges that mean there isn't a lot of "wow" inducing palette here that the high definition presentation can really exploit. But given the constrained visual look Hui was going for, this Blu-ray looks rather elegant and crisply well defined.
A Simple Life Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A Simple Life is by its very nature a rather quiet, subdued film, and so there's not a whole heck of a lot that the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has to offer in terms of overwhelming immersive qualities and spectacular effects. That said, what's here is rather artfully put together, with subtle but effective discrete channelization afforded to ambient environmental effects (there's a nice sense of depth even in the hospital and nursing home scenes). Dialogue is very cleanly presented and the minimal but affecting score also spills generously into the surrounds. This is not a "showy" track by any stretch of the imagination, but it very capably supports this film's intimate approach. For the record, there is also a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 track available as an audio option.
A Simple Life Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A Simple Life Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A Simple Life might have benefited from a little judicious cutting, but even at its slightly bloated feeling running time, it's an often extremely affecting and effective drama showing the last "dance" between two people whose lives have been interlinked for decades. Quiet, subtle and pervasively bittersweet, this is a film designed to bring a lump to just about anyone's throat, but it's also a strangely life affirming tale that shows the indelible bonds two humans can forge with each other. This Blu-ray offers excellent video and audio, and even without anything to speak of in the supplements department, comes Highly recommended.
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A Simple Life Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Ann Hui's A Simple Life Gets U.S. Release Date - December 14, 2012
Independent distributors Well Go USA have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray director Ann Hui's A Simple Life (2011), starring Andy Lau, Deannie Yip and Lawrence Ah Mon. The preliminary release date set by the distributors is February 26th.
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