Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Family ties and the way that the past can affect the present are playfully - and sometimes poignantly - explored."

Family ties and the way that the past can affect the present are playfully - and sometimes poignantly - explored in this well-handled multiple-stranded story from Pang Ho-Cheung, which offers tales from three generations of a single Hong Kong family.

The oldest generation is represented by Dong (Ng Man-tat), a fisherman-turned-priest who is known for his Breaking Hell ceremony, a flamboyant ritual aimed to help people reincarnate - the theme of which recurs throughout the film. Now widowed, Dong's past life has a physical presence in the form of a shrine to his dead wife, but he has moved on emotionally and enjoys a steady relationship with nightclub hostess Ta (Carrie Ng).

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At the other end of the spectrum is little Chloe (Lee Man-kwai), a sparky, cute kid who dotes on her pet chameleon Greenie and whose secrets include being bullied at school and trips to the refrigerator at night.

But it is in the middle generation where most of the angst is found. Chloe's parents are both fearful of their limitations. Mum Ceci (Gigi Leung), is an ageing model, facing the end of a career, unwanted sexual advances and no idea what she wants to 'reincarnate' into. Her husband Tao (Louis Koo), Dong's son, doesn't help, as - in one of several sideswipes at the surface nature of modern Hong Kong society - his job is chiefly concerned with teaching people how to marry a rich man, while his talk at home seems to frequently dwell on his own daughter's lack of good looks.

His sister Ching (Miriam Yeung) is a tour guide, facing her own doubts about middle age and unable to shake off her own childhood demons, fortunately oblivious of the fact that her doctor husband Cheung (Eric Tsang) is having an affair with a nurse young enough to be his daughter (Jacky Choi).

Ho-Cheung drifts in and out of these narratives, showing how reconcilliation of the past is essential if you want to live properly in the here and now. The message could be trite but he handles it lightly, using mischevious dream sequences - including a wonderful Godzilla-in-miniature moment and a mysterious segment heralded by a mobile phone with a Hitchcock Presents ringtone - to lift the film above your average family tale. Although occasionally flirting with melodrama, Ho-Cheung holds back and does an impressive job of balancing the characters despite the number of them he has to handle. The women, in particular, fare well, never playing second fiddle to their respective husbands and displaying a greater talent for moving on.

There is quite a bit of heavy symbolism at work, from the reincarnation themes to an unexploded bomb - itself a dangerous reminder of the strife of previous generations lying beneath the modernity of Hong Kong. But it is in the gentler, more everyday moments that the film is most memorable, in food on your face after midnight, the sucking of a noodle no matter what the cost and smoke drifting on the wind.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2014
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Three generations of a well-to-do family face the burdens and pleasures of daily life in Hong Kong.
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Director: Pang Ho-Cheung

Writer: Pang Ho-Cheung

Starring: Miriam Yeung, Louis Koo, Gigi Leung, Eris Tsang, Ng Man-tat, Carrie Ng

Year: 2014

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Hong Kong


EIFF 2014

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