With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ACF 2004: FLOATING CITY - Region 1 Blu-ray review

Floating City
Directed by Yim Ho
Hong Kong, 2012, 105 minutes

Floating City, director Yim Ho's 2012 Hong Kong drama about a businessman who rises from the most humble of roots, becomes available today, Tuesday, August 20th, 2013, from Well Go USA Entertainment. Formats include Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital (video-on-demand, electronic sell-through, and/or streaming).

Bo Wah Chun, second from right, with his son, wife, mother, and daughter

Set initially in the early 1990s, the story is narrated by Bo Wah Chun (played by Aaron Kwok as an adult). He is married to Tai (Charlie Young) with whom he fell in love as a young man, and they have two children (a daughter and a younger son). Mr. Bo has just risen to the top leadership of the Imperial East India Company. He recounts his life (depicted in various flashbacks) which began in extreme poverty. As an infant he was sold to a woman (Josie Ho as the young Mrs. Bo; Nina Paw plays her as an older character) who had had a miscarriage while out on her family's boat in a storm. Mrs. Bo was afraid that she might not be able to get pregnant again, though that turned out not to be the case.

Chun and Tai as a young couple

But the child she buys turns out to be unusual: he has decidedly non-Chinese blue eyes. (Later, when it grows in, his hair will be reddish-brown, and as an adult he will take to dying it black.) The infant also comes with one of his birth-mother's earrings, which will come to play in an extremely touching scene near the end of the film.

Fion Wong assists Mr. Bo in choosing his attire

Because of his looks he is called "mixed" by some Chinese, and "half breed" by Mr. Callahan, a racist British manager/executive at Imperial East, where Chun, as he is more properly called, is able to obtain an entry level position as an office/errand boy. Bright and highly motivated, his talents eventually are recognized by Greg McCordle, the head of the company, who promotes him. He is also mentored by Ms. Fion Wong (Annie Liu), a smart, gorgeous, and worldly-wise young woman who teaches him how to dress like a successful businessman, as well as other social skills.

One might best describe Floating City, which is said to be based on a true story, as a Hong Kong version of the Horatio Alger myth. In over 100 novels written in the 19th century, Horatio Alger, Jr. depicted the rise "from rags to riches" (or at least solid middle-class respectability) of his male protagonists. The formula is usually described as a combination of luck, pluck and virtue, all of which Bo Wah Chun possesses.

Scene set in the anti-British riots of 1967

The script was co-written by director Yim and by Marco Pong. To their credit they have created a rich and balanced film about a turbulent time in Hong Kong's history. There were anti-British riots in 1967 and a great deal of anxiety and concern as colonial rule ended and the territory was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Far too often, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese films have simply vilified the British.

While I make no apologies for the myriad wrongs inflicted on Hong Kong (and other colonies) by the British (and other imperial powers), I appreciated their being depicted as having various characters, not all being simply villainous cardboard cutouts. Similarly, it's nice to have the negative views of some Chinese addressed. Remember, Bo is called "mixed" by some Chinese and "half breed" by some Britishers, and that he is mentored both by McCordle, who is British, and by Ms. Wong, who is Chinese.

Director Yim Ho, who was born in Hong Kong in 1952, was one of the pioneering auteurs of the Hong Kong New Wave. Two of the previous films for which he is known are Homecoming / Chi sui lau nin (1984) and Red Dust (1991). Floating City is his first film since A West Lake Moment was released eight years earlier in 2004, and it's a most welcome return. He deftly handles material that could easily have been overly melodramatic and saccharine.

ACF rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars; highly recommended.