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Big Blue Lake
Big Blue Lake

Leila Tong and Lawrence Chou in Big Blue Lake.

Chinese: 大藍湖  
Year: 2011
Director: Jessey Tsang Tsui-Shan

Teresa Kwong, Rita Hui


Luk Bo-Bo, Jessey Tsang Tsui-Shan


Leila Tong Ling, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Amy Chum (Tam Yan-Mei), Lam Wing-Hang, Philip Ng Won-Lung, Lillian Ho Ka-Lei

  The Skinny: Respectable independent film delivers positive emotions and a healthy helping of local culture. Big Blue Lake is also short on engaging characters, and is so passive that becoming bored is easy. The film won't travel well, but the agreeable sentiments and generous cultural detail will strike a chord with some locals.
by Kozo:
Hong Kong independent film Big Blue Lake qualifies as a pleasant surprise, though relatively speaking that doesn’t mean all that much. Hong Kong indies are notorious for their pretension, and Big Blue Lake’s story of reconciliation and memory certainly flirts with such. However, the film also avoids being heavy-handed, and does a good job of diluting its existential meaning or universal messages with generous cultural detail and subdued direction. Big Blue Lake doesn’t impress as essential or even noteworthy cinema, and indeed its story is so unremarkable that one may simply shrug the whole thing off. But recognizing the film’s good points is an easy thing to do.

Based in part on director Jessey Tsang's own experiences, Big Blue Lake stars Leila Tong as Lai-Yee, a wayward daughter who returns from years abroad to Ho Chung Village in Sai Kung. Lai-Yee is an actress – a suspect vocation to Lai-Yee's family and neighbors – and her bohemian pursuits came with some friction with her father. Upon arriving in Ho Chung, Lai-Yee is surprised to find that her mother May (Amy Chum) now suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease, and her brother and father are away for differing reasons. At a crossroads in life, Lai-Yee chooses to take care of her mother and slowly reacquaints herself with the village and its people, including former childhood friend and soon-to-be romantic interest Chun (Lawrence Chou).

The "Big Blue Lake" in the film's title refers to an actual lake located near Ho Chung Village – or so Chun and Lai-Yee think. Chun wants to find it because it's where he took his first love on a date, and Lai-Yee claims she knows where it is. That's not exactly true, and if you consider the metaphorical implication of thinking you know where something is when you actually don’t, well, that's pretty deep! Sorta. Jessey Tsang may have standard indie goals, but she’s not forceful about making sure that you get the message. Ultimately, any overt meaning plays a smaller role than the local atmosphere and affectionate, even light-hearted look at Ho Chung’s residents.

However, the film is only a shade removed from boring. Big Blue Lake possesses a relaxed, passive tone that only changes gears when crises arrive – which really isn't all that often. The film depicts daily life in Ho Chung, with narrative drama popping up without much warning or emphasis. The drama itself is rather common stuff – family, memories, lost loves – and it’s all related in low-key fashion. Some scenes do reveal more, but they're not built up like they would be in a standard narrative film, with some of the drama ultimately feeling disconnected. The story's passivity never really wavers, somewhat reflecting life but also serving to undermine any potent moments.

The local focus is a positive, though. Jessey Tsang is intimately connected to her subject, and she takes care to introduce us to Ho Chung’s traditions and the actual lives of Ho Chung people through staged interviews conducted by Lai-Yee. There’s a narrative purpose to this, but it’s related in the same low-key fashion as everything else. Undoubtedly all of this will touch a segment of the audience, but that segment is likely small, and the story and characters aren’t really strong enough to gain traction with audiences that regard film as a one-way experience. Ultimately, this is a film that’s best for Hong Kong people with an innate appreciation for local culture. Big Blue Lake shows care and respect for simple Hong Kong life and does so without using the hammer. Really, that means something. Perhaps not to everyone, but it does. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2011)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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Image credit: Hong Kong Asian Film Festival Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen