Below the Lion Rock: Road
Hong Kong 1978
Directed by Ann Hui.

Grandma checks in to a women's rehab clinic to kick the opium habit, but her daughter Chui Fong (Carol DoDo Cheng) still puffs her life away, mainly because it is so dreary, and because her husband ran off after hearing she was pregnant again. Meanwhile, the parents of Siu Lai (Idy Chan Yuk-lin) pack her off to become a bar hostess and possibly prostitute to earn some money for them since their gambling hall closed. She starts smoking opium laced cigarettes to deal with the situation, and really, who wouldn't? However, a social worker from the clinic, Mrs. Lee (Gigi Wong) makes an effort to help those that she can. Somehow, director Ann Hui manages to make this fifty minute public service announcement palatable, even thoughtful.

The story in ROAD is not so much "!" Instead, it is about families, and the influence of parental behaviour on children. In the case of Fong, she was given opium by her mother, who had been hooked by her father. And in a particularly affecting scene, when Fong lies down to smoke, her little daughter watches carefully, then waits around the house unsupervised and unattended, clutching her teddy bear. More directly, Fong harms her unborn baby by smoking even past the first trimester. But, there is hope for Fong -- her mother has checked in and is receiving treatment, and perhaps, she will follow her mother's lead. The story of Fong is about waking up from a long, cloudy past, which has left them nothing more than a broken down home, a jobless, shiftless husband, a poor job, and a lethal addition.

Parallel to this story is the story of Siu Lai. When she is first introduced, it is a bit jarring (who is she? What does she have to do with the story so far?), but it soon becomes clear her narrative is separate, related only thematically. Again, the focus is on the family. But this time, we observe Siu Lai just getting started with opium, how she is enabled in her habit by her parents, and how she uses it to numb the pain of leading a degraded life -- which becomes increasingly so as it progresses. In her sory, we see a little of how Fong might have started on her habit, and in Fong's story, we see how much destruction occurs, and how much time passes, before it is possible to emerge.

What is refreshing in the portrayals of all of the characters is that there is no distinct villains or heroes. Everyone is just trying to live their lives as best they can. Siu Lai's parents send her to work as a hostess, but don't wish her to become a prostitute. When she comes home after having sex for the first time, to a guy she thought was really nice, her parents are angry that she was taken advantage of. But then when they ask if she was paid, and she says she refused the money, her mother gives her a massive slap across the face. Motherly concern followed by monetary concern. Talk about sending mixed messages.

Even the dealer is not shown as evil incarnate -- in fact in one scene it shows him teaching a young boy -- perhaps his son -- the proper way to deal drugs. Father-son bonding, true, but over what? Again tying to the theme of parental responsibility.

ROAD is the first episode of the TV series BELOW THE LION ROCK that I have viewed, and it surpassed my expectations. Shot on film, it looks like a short independent film more than anything else. The cast is very strong, though I was surprised how hellish Carol Cheng looks here (like a drug addict, of course). Idy Chan, who was Chow Yun-Fat's first long term girlfriend, is also convincing in her role, and I appreciated how lacking in self-pity everyone was. Most people after all don't go around lamenting their miserable lives, rather, we are too busy just trying to keep our heads above water.

In an interview of the DVD Ann Hui mentioned that her mother saw this program on TV some years ago and told her it was much better than her new work. This made Ann curious to go back and look again at what made this work successful. She wasn't able to do that, then, because she didn't have a copy. But now, with the release of the DVD, she can. I find it interesting that this DVD release may not only shape our opinions of Ann Hui as a director, they may change the way she works on her pictures in the future.

The episode "BRIDGE" also appears on the same DVD but is not included on the VCD.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 23, 2005.

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