Historical, prominent, meaningful are three words to describe this highly underrated Tsui Hark’s classic made more than 30 years ago. It is every bit as universally relevant as it is today. The trio Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung and Sally Yeh were all at the pinnacle of their star attraction and their friendship remains the key core to this magnificent piece of cinema. Example of Hong Kong cinema which deals with real issues, history, culture, gender and humanity are hard to come by. In this film, we see all these elements merged together, yet Hark still have time to provide us with plenty of slapstick comedy, well staged gun play and Peking Opera. To call, this film entertaining would do it disservice as it is one that not only stand the test of time, but one that gets better with age and probably not a film Hong Kong can create once again.
This is one of those films that depicts the ongoing differences in culture between Hong Kong and the Mainlanders. Whilst it is largely exaggerated to create the tempo of free flowing laughter, some universal truth remains. Master comedian Michael Hui teams up with veteran producer Raymond Wong as the two plays of each other with plenty of innate and comic chemistry. There is a lot to appreciate director Clifford Ko in this film as he simply allows Hui to showcase his scene by scene talent. Whenever, Hui is on screen his antics are essentially giving us our next laugh out loud moment. We live in an age where acceptance remains a large concern and the current divide between the territory and mother country cannot be greater. This film is simply a reflection of that cultural difference, the condemning of money minded insurance companies, rich and poor gap and the nature of workers and bosses. Sadly, all these themes remain relevant to Hong Kong today.
A vivid portrayal of the life after the Vietnam War.
Ann Hui On-Wah has always been a social director, someone with an eye for real people living life in their own tough ways. Hui always emphasise that people will forever be a product of their own context and even the more recent attempt in the veins of “The Post-modern Life of My Aunt”, people of the past have to either change or adapt into the ever rapidly changing society. A little over 25 years ago, it was about life after the Vietnam War and how people are forced to do things due to the situation of their time. Hui is not afraid of asking the big questions, are all the images that we see within each photograph from the Vietnam War just a construct or were they really what we think we are actually seeing. The harsh reality may well be tough to take, but in truth, life is never meant to be a walk in the park. Perhaps, it is the notion of cliché where people watch or see how there are less fortunate people, that we truly reflect upon our own lives and realise just how trivial our problems really are. Still, it is human nature to desire and wanting to have something better and it is perhaps this goal/aim that defines our very existence.
History tends to repeat itself over and over again and with that being said, the same process seems to go through my life all the time. People come and go almost as rapidly as the hotel room of 2046. An outsider might find this life rather colourful, where everything is always short-lived, always someone new around the corner, but at its very core the person within the room isn’t contended, but the sad part of the affair is that there isn’t much he can do about it. Like everyone within the Boat People, fate has already befallen them; digging up mines within minefields with bare hands isn’t exactly the smartest way to survive. Yet these people still want to live on and dream on, hoping that a better life is just around the corner and perhaps freedom. The moment when Andy Lau finally reaches his freedom, it was an ironic moment that his life ended up on his pursues of a dream, rather than the expected land of digging up minefields. However, as those who know Neo, he is just someone that just doesn’t know when to give up, but then again, who knows what the future holds. That perhaps, is the beauty of life along with the hope and dreams that lies along the pathway of ones’ soul.
This is most likely legendary singer George Lam’s greatest acting performance, while he have always been a wooden actor, Lam made used of his limited range to almost perfection to the role of a Japanese photographer venturing into the lives of others. His stoic and wooden appearance is well compensated by his sympathetic look as he befriends a family of children and the moment he realises the truth behind the concentration camp. Also in the mixing is the future superstar in Andy Lau, making his silver screen début in nothing more than a glorified extended cameo. While Lau’s acting is raw, director Hui cleverly exploited this and in the end, Lau more than handled his role to some degree of success.
All in all, “Boat People” is really an accomplished piece of real and vivid cinema that depicts the notion of life after any wars. The minefield sequences are absolutely mind blowing as are the human and inhumane emotions that goes along the way. Ann Hui and her crew fully deserved the Best Picture and Best Director awards that it garnered. Despite it being made a little over 25 years ago, the film remains every bit as relevant and the impacting raw emotions of human survival is well worth a look. We all strive to learn from our mistakes, but then again it is human nature to repeat the same mistake over and over again. Still, when all causes are gone, we can still aspire to hope. (Neo 2008)
I rated it 8.5/10
Writing about Asian and World cinema since 2004 (Member of Film Critic Circle of Australia and Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts)