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Carlos Chan and Kara Hui seek Happiness.
Chinese: 幸運是我
Year: 2016
Director: Andy Lo Yiu-Fai

Albert Lee, Catherine Kwan, Daniel Yu

Writer: Andy Lo Yiu-Fai

Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Carlos Chan Ka-Lok, Cya Liu, Louis Cheung Kai-Chung, Yan Ng Yat-Yin, James Ng, June Lam Siu-Ha, Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai, Stephanie Che Yuen-Yuen, Siu Yam-Yam, Celia Kwok, Chin Siu-Ho, Teresa Mak Ka-Kei

The Skinny: Andy Lo’s feature directing debut is an effective drama that succeeds largely due to Kara Hui's sublime performance. Lead Carlos Chan doesn't fare as well, which leaves portions of the film feeling disconnected. Regardless, this is one of Hong Kong Cinema's more pleasant surprises in 2016.
by Kozo:

Director Andy Lo Yiu-Fai makes a fine feature debut with the flawed yet quietly effective drama Happiness. A longtime screenwriter for the good (Crazy n’ the City), the bad (The Park) and the ugly (Here Comes Fortune), Lo previously wrote and directed “Can’t Stop the Killing”, a segment of the omnibus film Hardcore Comedy. As a director, Lo did a decent job with the thirty-minute segment, and showed that he can handle different characters and tones. However, his screenplay was terribly overwritten, with too much voiceover and too many unnecessary details that required even more voiceover. “Can’t Stop the Killing” was rife with Hong Kong screenwriting problems, but they’re problems that Lo manages to correct for Happiness. This grounded drama is notable for its lack of voiceover and overt exposition, and finds its greatest strengths in character interaction and growth. Here we get to see things happen instead of listening to someone tell us that they did. If you consider what medium we’re talking about – moving pictures a.k.a. cinema – Lo’s improvement is a welcome development.

Happiness tells the story of Chan Kai-Yuk (Carlos Chan), who arrives in Hong Kong from China after his mother dies to search for his father Chan Fung (Chin Siu-Ho). However, Chan Fung pointedly avoids his son, and in trying to exist day-to-day, Kai-Yuk forms a connection with the aged and addled Tse Yuen-Fan (Kara Wai), who informally goes by Aunt Fanny. At first, the disaffected Kai-Yuk selfishly exploits Aunt Fanny. He arranges to become her lodger through minor dishonesty, and achieves major dishonesty by taking advantage of her cognitive impairment to swindle her. However, a bond eventually forms between the two that grows stronger by the day. Kai-Yuk finds a job at a charity community center and befriends Xiaoyue (Cya Liu), a visiting student from the mainland. Meanwhile, Aunt Fanny grows more forgetful and finally visits a doctor for an evaluation. Eventually, Kai-Yuk and Aunt Fanny discover that they can give one another something that the other quietly and desperately needs. And that’s pretty much all that happens in Happiness. I just saved you two hours.

However, the barebones story of Happiness isn’t what makes it work – it’s the development and depth of the relationship between Aunt Fanny and Kai-Yuk, and also Kara Hui’s sublime performance, that make the film worthwhile. Hui finds a remarkable balance in her portrayal of Aunt Fanny. Depending on the situation, Aunt Fanny can be obstinate, vulnerable, distrustful, sweet or fiery, and Hui infuses every emotion with decency and humanity. Her performance ultimately creates most of the film's tension, as the audience is left to wonder just how advanced Aunt Fanny's issues are. Is she going to slip further into dementia, and will the film culminate in her passing? These questions aren't posed explicitly, and yet naturally arise because it's so easy to care about Aunt Fanny. Unfortunately, Carlos Chan is no match for Kara Hui. Chan is OK in some scenes, but he can't string every moment together credibly. Sometimes it feels like Chan is serving individual scenes instead of using each scene to serve his character, leading to his performance feeling shallow and disconnected.

What's remarkable about the disparity in the performances is that Kai-Yuk is the film's protagonist, but because of Kara Hui's acting it feels like the main character is actually Aunt Fanny. Kai-Yuk participates in every subplot, and he gets the character arc on which the whole narrative turns. However, it's Aunt Fanny who holds all the attention, and delivers the subtle, affecting moments that make you care where the story is heading. Some storylines serve Kai-Yuk decently; the one involving his father leads to some surprising emotional moments, and Chin Siu-Ho is strong in a brief but spot-on performance as Chan Fung. Of all Kai-Yuk's subplots, the relationship with Xiaoyue has the most potential as it's an opportunity for growth instead of more reflection or contemplation. However, that storyline – the most the film can muster for a romantic subplot – reuses hackneyed devices involving fate and serendipitous connection. This is stuff that's common to many other Hong Kong dramas or romances and feels ill-fitting with Happiness’s largely subtle story and development.

Also, some of the film's quirky touches don't entirely work. Louis Cheung plays Kai-Yuk's workmate, a chef who seems to take exceptional pleasure in just about everything that he does, and while Cheung's performance is generally fine, the character isn't developed enough to make his scenes into more than tangential distractions. On the plus side, Happiness never tries too hard for significance, which makes its plot turns more effective and resonant than similar films dealing with age, loss and relationships (a good example would be the 2010 film Merry-Go-Round). The script also touches on some social issues and yet doesn't proselytize, and manages to never become egregiously sappy or sentimental – though it does come close on occasion. Nothing quite shores up the film's biggest flaw – that Kai-Yuk doesn’t feel like the main character even though that’s what he’s supposed to be – but thanks to Kara Hui's indelible work, Happiness still feels like a win for director-screenwriter Andy Lo. A low-key and surprising Hong Kong Cinema success. (Kozo, 12/2016)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
CN Entertainment Ltd.
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
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