Tropes and formulas are so commonplace in movies that we've come to expect them. Perhaps that's why they're called tropes and formulas in the first place. When a movie rolls around that doesn't feature any of them it usually catches me off guard. 'A Simple Life' did just that. Here is a movie that completely eschews any sort of patented structure and instead tells a beautiful story about caring, compassion, and love as easily as one might recount a sunny day. Just when you think it's going to revert to the same-old-same-old, it doesn't. It carries on with its heartfelt message, never derailing for the sake of forced melodramatics or clichéd misunderstandings. At its very core it's a movie about two people who love and respect each other, and that's all they need.
Roger (Andy Lau) is a movie producer. He works in Hong Kong and lives in a tiny apartment in the city. Even though his living quarters are small he has a live-in maid named Ah (Tao Deanie Ip). We soon find out that Ah's family has been serving Roger's family for the better part of a century. A sort of symbiotic relationship between the two families has grown over the years. Roger genuinely loves Ah and Ah's feelings are reciprocal.
Ah is getting along in years though and soon suffers a stroke. Her rehab is arduous, but she doesn't complain. Hoping to ease the burden on Roger, Ah insists that she be put into an old folk's home and left there for the remainder of her life. She loves Roger so much she doesn't want to bother him with the latter part of her life.
What transpires is a sweet romance of sorts. It isn't a romance in the sense of finding one's true love, but a romance in humanity. Roger visits Ah regularly. He takes her out to eat. They laugh together, enjoy each other's company, and grow to respect each other more than they already did.
This is when you think the movie will spoil itself with a forced misunderstanding between the two. I kept waiting for one of them to get mad at the other so the third act could be all about them getting back together, smoothing things over, and living happily ever after. Only, there's no need for that because Roger and Ah live happily all the time. They never fall out. They never find themselves bickering simply because that's what a movie script is supposed to do at the end of the second act. As a matter of fact, 'A Simple Life' lacks acts as we generally know them. Instead the story and its delightful conversations flow and meander like a babbling brook. It's a joy to watch the two of them care for each other.
I felt myself bracing for a big reveal that the people at the nursing home were going to be cruel and force Ah to work in a sweatshop or something. That doesn't happen either. The nursing home is merely a home for the elderly trying to do the best they can with the limited space they have in a crowded city like Hong Kong. The surroundings are understandably cramped, but again, Ah doesn't complain. She's an eternal optimist – something extremely rare in the movies. She's always looking on the bright side, finding the silver lining, stopping to smell the roses. If only more of us could approach life like Ah, devoid of cynicism and prejudice. The world would be a better place.
In essence that's what this movie is about. It's about karma. It's about taking care of our fellow humans even if they spent their life serving. Roger understands that it's his turn to care for Ah now and watching him do it is a life affirming pleasure. There isn't a single moment in 'A Simple Life' that didn't live up to its title. It's simple, elegant, and most important of all, human.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'A Simple Life' is a Well Go USA release. They've packaged it in a standard keepcase, on a 50GB Blu-ray Disc, and coded it for Region A use.
The 1080p transfer of 'A Simple Life' looks, for the most part, precise and clean. The detail here is well rounded, even though the movie was shot digitally. The flatness that so often creeps in on digital presentations doesn't seem as bad here.
Colors do feel a little muted though. Blacks aren't as deep as one might expect. Even though the fine detail shines through in well-lit scenes, there are some darker scenes that feature some crush from flatter shadows. I did notice some minor banding during a few of the fade transitions between scenes.
That said, the detail here is impressive. Facial lines, hair, and clothing texture all have a tactile appearance to them. It isn't a presentation that's going to floor any videophiles, but it will please most who pick it up. And it certainly is one of Well Go USA's best presentations on the format.
By its nature 'A Simple Life' is a reserved, talkative film that hasn't really any need to use the rear speakers as much as other movies might. That's okay though because there aren't many scenes that really need surround sound involvement.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is as good as you might expect for a talk-heavy movie like this. The dialogue is clear and precise (save for a few scenes with Roger's mother; she appears to have been dubbed with really terrible ADR). The few scenes, like a movie premiere that Roger takes Ah to, require there to be some nice ambient sound. When the ambient sound is called upon it does an admirable job piping up.
As you might have guessed low-end sonics are nearly non-existent. My sub-woofer, which turns itself off to save power if it doesn't sense any LFE to output, turned itself off and back on a couple times during the movie. Again, the movie isn't constructed to use much bass at all. In the end it's a simple movie, yet the audio mix appropriately reflects the film's feelings and intentions. That's all that you can really ask from it.
I kept waiting for 'A Simple Life' to revert to the generic and it never did. It plodded along with its sweet story about two people without a care in the world. The phrase "breath of fresh air" is thrown around a lot in movie reviewing, but I'd have to say if I were to apply that saying to any movie this would be it. It felt so genuine and warm, with two infinitely likable characters doing good things for each other, that I wondered on a few occasions if I was dreaming this movie. Surely a movie can't be made nowadays lacking pessimism and distrust, but here it is. And I love it.