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Floating City
Floating City

Charlie Young, Aaron Kwok and Bau Hei-Jing in Floating City.
Chinese: 浮城
Year: 2012
Director: Yim Ho
Producer: Yim Ho
Writer: Yim Ho

Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Bau Hei-Jing, Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Annie Liu, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Carlson Cheng Ka-Sing, Gregory Rivers, Ben Yuen Foo-Wa, Joey Leung Cho-Yiu, Cherry Ngan Cheuk-Ling

  The Skinny: Floating City is an engaging and effective primer on a little-looked-at portion of the Hong Kong experience, but as a drama it only superficially succeeds. Still worth a look for its rare subject matter. Star Aaron Kwok underacts for a change.
by Kozo:

Yim Hos Floating City does things that few Hong Kong movies do anymore, so we should appreciate it, flaws and all. Multiple award-winning actor Aaron Kwok stars in this based-on-a-true-story family saga as Bo Wah-Chuen, a boat person originating from southern China who suffers an identity crisis as he climbs the social ladder or tries to in 1990s Hong Kong. Bo is a member of an ethnic group called the Tanka, though the term has become somewhat frowned upon, as it was used by Hong Kongers and other Han Chinese as a derogatory slur. Curiously, the films subtitles refer to Bos people as Egg People, a literal translation of their Chinese name that seemingly has little use outside the film.

Bos existence actually qualifies him as the lowest of the low; hes an adopted half-Caucasian, half-Chinese whose adoptive mother (Josie Ho in her youth, Bau Hei-Jing in later years) is a Tanka. Bo's entire family, consisting of seven people in total, lives on a single boat, experiencing difficult times and some prejudice both from Hong Kongers and fellow Tanka - with family squabbles and poverty foreshadowing a tough life ahead. Bo sees a way out, however: if he can join the foreign-owned Imperial East India Company, he can climb the ranks and provide for his family. Fluency in English is a prerequisite, but Bo fakes his credentials and learns on the job. Bos dedication ultimately impresses an Imperial East India exec (TVB player Gregory Rivers), and suddenly his dreams of a respectable life may be within reach.

And then Bos personal crisis occurs nominally, at least. Floating City opens in media res, with a glimpse of the financially-successful Bo, his Tanka wife Tai (Charlie Young), and also the western-raised Fion (Annie Liu), Bos colleague and potential partner in adultery. Tai begs off a big company party and Bo goes with Fion, where they mingle with upper-class partygoers before Bo stares into a mirror and hilariously asks, Who am I? The moment is supposed to be incisive but comes off as hammy, and the identified conflict is never truly felt. Bos identity crisis is well-defined: hes a Tanka and a Chinese, but he thinks of himself as British. However, a stop at airport immigration provides a rude awakening. These incidents are strong ones that ask complex questions, but neither Aaron Kwok nor Yim Ho convey much beyond the surface.

Part of the problem is Aaron Kwoks performance. Physically, hes unconvincing, as he doesnt look half-Caucasian, and his brooding and introspection never tell us anything except that hes a conflicted guy. Bo faces lots of temptations corruption, infidelity, unfilial conduct but his choices never seem in doubt, and the audience is never led to question what he does. Disappointment, outrage, elation these emotions dont occur, and Bos story ultimately comes off as passive and superficial. As an example of the Tanka people experience, Bo is a good protagonist, but as a character, he never really comes to life. Likewise, the films rich material is never fully explored. The history and sociopolitical forces presented are worthy of closer examination, but the film provides little more than a cursory panorama. Bos journey is ultimately better for what it introduces, rather than what it actually achieves.

For those seeking an introduction to recent Hong Kong history, Floating Life has its plusses. The film is an engaging look at the Tanka experience and also an account of the waning days of British colonialism, all portrayed with a respect and balance that convey the complexity of the times. Some scenes are silently powerful; one moment where Tai attempts to serve the other wives at an Imperial East India party is remarkably telling, and does more than whole scenes of Aaron Kwok brooding. The scenes detailing Bos adoption are compelling, as are the moments where Bos family must consider breaking up to allow for their survival. Floating City shows facets of what makes Hong Kong unique, like its colonial history and culturally diverse population, and Yim Ho's desire to tell these stories is something worth lauding.

Acting is all over the place, with Aaron Kwoks underplaying contrasting with Charlie Youngs felt but nearly overwhelming performance. Annie Liu is way out of her depth as the westernized Fion, but Bau Hei-Jing and to a lesser extent Josie Ho handle their parts exceptionally. Director Yim Ho was among Hong Kongs lauded New Wave directors of the eighties, but hes somewhat floundered since the late nineties, never reaching the level of acclaim he achieved with Homecoming or The Day the Sun Turned Cold. Floating City demonstrates that hes a still a sensitive director who refuses to trivialize his characters or their lives. This is a film that Yim Ho obviously cares for, and he delivers some effective, even exceptional moments amidst his historical event-checking. But in the end, Floating City only engages and educates, valiantly attempting and never achieving that much more. (Kozo 2012)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd.
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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