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Sand Pebbles


(From left to right) Kitson Shum, Silkie Choi and SimC in Sand Pebbles.



Year: 2014  
Director: Cliff Choi Kai-Kwong
Producer: Cliff Choi Kai-Kwong, Takkie Yeung Yat-Tak
Writer: Cliff Choi Kai-Kwong

Bau Hei-Jing, Silkie Choi, Kitson Shum, SimC, Yung-Yung Yu

The Skinny:

Well-meaning Hong Kong indie that revisits the SARS crisis over 10 years later. Worthwhile for its different take on a notorious time in Hong Kong history but the predictable sentiments and indulgent storytelling prevent it from truly excelling.

by Kozo:

Sand Pebbles is yet another well-meaning Hong Kong indie that’s laudable for its intentions, yet not so much for its actual execution. Cliff Choi Kai-Kwong, whose last film was the forgotten Francis Ng-Anita Lee starrer Naughty Couple (1994), directs this family drama-comedy that takes place in 2003 during the Hong Kong SARS epidemic. Cousins Natalie (Silkie Choi), Moon (SimC) and Guun (Kitson Shum) are sent to live with their grandmother, called Miss Ching (Bau Hei-jing), when the SARS outbreak heightens tensions in an already tense Hong Kong. The three teens aren’t pals initially, and the sudden cohabitation comes with strife. However, through growth and no small amount of contrived plotting, the three learn to get along, while Miss Ching smiles in the background serenely. Then it’s revealed that Miss Ching lives in the Amoy Gardens housing estate in Ngau Tau Kok – and if you know anything about what happened there in 2003, you’ll know that this is a serious problem.

Thanks to the notorious Amoy Gardens SARS outbreak, the kids are quarantined and later evacuated to a remote SARS camp, and the situations provide fertile material for a decade-later look back at this period in Hong Kong history. Witnessing the kids as they deal with stuff like cabin fever or wanting butter for their toast makes for a less sensationalized look at the SARS crisis. In City of SARS (2003) or The Miracle Box (2004), the drama was heightened tremendously, but here it’s pulled back and used for more mundane observations, not to mention as a mere backdrop for a fractured family’s reunion. The result is still mawkish but there are decent emotions along the way. The young actors are unpolished but progress from annoying to passably engaging after a fashion. Singaporean singer SimC shows a refreshing personality while Kitson Shum convinces as a dorky mainland transplant. Silkie Choi is the most “Hong Kong” of the three and shows natural presence, despite making comparatively the least impression.

In a pivotal supporting role, Bau Hei-Jing is strong and affecting despite rarely deviating from her character’s perpetually cheerful demeanor. The film would have been more effective, however, had the SARS storyline and the family drama been intertwined better. Also, the script has needless digressions for occasional humor and a cycling subplot that proves interminable. A strong backbone is missing from the narrative, and while the positive messages are appreciated, they’re so earnest and predictable that it’s easy to confuse the film with an afterschool special. Sand Pebbles ends up as glorified and indulgent RTHK fare – an overlong educational story with routine emotions and social concerns that’s given a professionally-shot but otherwise unremarkable widescreen berth. The film does deserve credit for revisiting the SARS epidemic and showing that there are still stories to tell – as well as new and different ways to tell them. Hong Kong filmmakers should revisit the subject again one day, hopefully with a film that’s more successful than Sand Pebbles. (Kozo, 12/2014)

  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen