Floating City (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 16, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“Floating City” is absolutely captivating, moving and powerful. We don’t really get to see discrimination in Asian cinema unless it deals with indigenous tribes but in a more modern setting, it really opened my eyes to people of mixed heritage, the experiences of the Tanka people and also a storyline that directors and writers tend to not want to explore in Asian cinema. But filmmaker Yim Ho does go there and does give us one of his better films that we have seen from a director in a very long while. “Floating City” is recommended!
TITLE: Floating City
FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 105 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1 and Stereo, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Directed by Ho Yim
Written by Marco Pong, Ho Yim
Produced by Carl Chang and Ho Yim
Cinematography by Ardy Lam
Edited by Stanley Tam
Production Design by Walter Wong
Costume Design by Miggy Cheng
Aaron Kwok as Bo Wah Chuen
Josie Ho as Bo’s mother (young)
Bau Hei-Jing as Bo’s mother (older)
Charlie Young as Tai
Annie Lieu as Fion
David Peatfield as Dick Callahan
Gregory Rivers as the Imperial East India Executive
In the early 1990s, Bo Wah Chuen (Aaron Kwok) attracts great attention as a business executive in the Imperial East India Company of Hong Kong, his prominence overshadowing even that of his British superiors. However, twenty years ago, when he takes the company s entry test, all he has to show for himself is the plea, I could read and write . His rise to prominence has as much to do with British s imminent return of Hong Kong to China, as it has to do with his considerable ability. To the astonishment of many, Bo Wah Chuen looks nothing like a Chinese. As a child, he has to endure much jeering as he looks nothing like his six siblings. People are amazed at the sight of a Caucasian looking fisherman in colonial Hong Kong. Though he is desperate to discover the origin of his peculiar features, every time he asks his parents, all he could get out of them is a good beating. Chuen s father dies in a fishing accident. His mother (Josie Ho/Nina Paw) incurs his father s debts, forcing her to send her older children off to an orphanage, and the younger ones to various foster homes, in order to lessen the financial burden. Meanwhile, thanks to his friend Lau Chiu Lik (Joe Leung), Chuen is initiated into the Imperial East India Company.
A deeply moving, rags-to-riches story based on a true story about actual people, Hong Kong New Wave filmmaker Ho Yim (“Pavilion of Women”, “Kitchen”, “Homecoming”, “The Day the Sun Turned Cold”) is back with an eye-opening drama.
Co-written with Marco Pong, the film would star Aaron Kwok (“The Storm Riders”, “Storm Warriors”, “And I Hate You So”), Josie Ho (“Contagion”, “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li”, “Purple Storm”), Charlie Yeung (“Fallen Angels”, “Seven Swords”, “Bangkok Dangerous”), Hee Ching Paw (“Fearless”, “So Close”, “The Way We Are”) and Annie Liu.
The film first beginswith Bo Wah Chuen (portrayed by Aaron Kwok) attending a party with the socialite and business owner Fion (portrayed by Annie Liu), while his wife Tai (portrayed by Charlie Yeung) is sleeping at home with the kids. While at the part of executives, Bo is distracted when he sees himself in the mirror and looks at his face.
The story then shifts to the distant past when Bo was a baby. When he was a baby, he was sold to another family and the only reminder of his mother is an earring given to his mother.
The baby boy is of mixed raced (half-Chinese and half-Caucasian) with reddish hair and at first was about to be denied because he doesn’t look Chinese until his adoptive mother (portrayed by Josie Ho) decides to take him in and he is named Bo Wah Chuen.
The family that have adopted Bo Wah Chuen are shuishang ren or boat people that were once known by the derogatory word, “Tanka” (note: In China, the Tanka were considered an ethnicity that lived in Southern China and are seen as boat people who are very poor. Historically, Tankas were treated as outcasts since they lived in the sea.)
But despite growing up and loved by his mother who would later have more children, he would be teased by other children for not looking Chinese. And his mother would admonish other mothers who would dare to talk badly about her son.
Still, Bo Wah Chuen would often ask his parents why he looks different but his family would never discuss that he was adopted.
The film then shifts to a young adult Bo Wah Chuen (portrayed by Aaron Kwok). As his mother have had several more children, all seven of them live in a small boat.
And while he and his father are at odds of how Bo Wah Chuen will take care of family, upon the death of his father, money becomes tight for the family and Bo would do all he can to support the family through many survival jobs.
And as for survival, Bo’s mother, now older (played by Hee Ching Paw) has to make one of the hardest decisions for her family and that is by giving up her toddler children to the orphanage, while the two babies are given out to parents who are in desperate need of a child. Because it was so difficult, she never took one cent for giving up her babies but she tells Bo Wah Chuen that one of these days, she will become an owner of her own boat and when she makes enough money, she will bring her children back and reunite everyone.
Desperately seeking a new job, Bo Wah Chuen applies for the foreign-owned company, the Imperial East India Company. And still being teased to the point he is referred to as “half-breed”.
But he gets the job and eventually is put through school to learn the basics, learning about the business and eventually lying about his credentials that he is fluent in English and if he is married. So, eventually, he goes to his childhood girlfriend Tai and both are married.
And as the first half of the film focused on the prejudice that Bo Wah Chuen had as a child and through his adult years, the second half of the film focuses on how this young man who had no chance, was given an opportunity and rose the ranks of become a high-level executive, all the during the final years of British colonialism in Hong Kong.
“Floating City” is presented in 1080p High Definition and presented in widescreen (2:39:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely beautiful with outdoor scenes are shown as vibrant, indoor scenes still looking very good with no low noise and black levels shown as dark and deep. Definitely an interesting contrast between the boating area of the first half of the film, showcasing the areas where Bo had to live and work and living in dingy areas. While the second half shows a different setting as Bo’s life is much more prominent living in the city and wearing suit and ties.
But overall picture quality in HD looks very good with no banding or artifact issues.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Floating City” is presented in Cantonese DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and stereo. Dialogue is crystal clear and there are some immersive moments during storms, but for this drama, the soundtrack is primarily center and front-channel driven.
Subtitles are in English.
“Floating City” comes with a trailer.
As I watched “Floating City”, I couldn’t help but shed some tears because I was moved by the film and its melodrama of a person who grew up poor and was looked down upon, would later become an executive for a major company in Hong Kong.
While there are many rags-to-riches stories out there, what makes “Floating City” compelling is the journey of how this man was able to go from a boy who was born, by a mother who was raped by a British man, given up for adoption but because of his mixed-race heritage, he was treated as an outcast.
But his family are Tanka, a group of people who are already treated as outcasts in society and are looked at as Hong Kong’s poorest residents.
While the character of Bo Wah Chuen grew up not knowing why he looked different but knowing that he had a mother who stood by him as a baby to young adulthood, but yet having to sacrifice so much in order for all children to survive, even if it meant giving them up to other families or for adoption.
And then seeing how this boy would become a man who received opportunities at the right time and eventually would become an employee to an executive in the Imperial East India Company.
But deep inside, knowing how much discrimination he faced and how hard he had worked to get himself to the top, it’s the women in his life that have kept him grounded and not forgetting where they came from. His mother and his wife Tai who come from a different world and are unable to crossover, while Bo Wah Chuen has wanted a different life for them, so they would not be looked down upon. Breaking away from the chains that have held his family and made them suffer from financial hardship to emotional distress from losing family members in hopes they find families that would provide them a good life.
But I suppose the reason why I felt very connected to this film is because while I was younger, I always felt that I had to work hard. While I never grew up dirt poor, I know how it feels to be discriminated upon because of your color or the fact that you don’t look like people of your own ethnicity. But like Bo Wah Chuen, despite people not thinking much of you as a young adult, I have had prominent people give me opportunities that made our families fare better now that our family was in America and it was a land that would provide a better lifestyle but to have the opportunities.
I admire the character of Bo Wah Chuen who took on amazing hardships and discrimination but was able to work hard and making the best of his life, so he can take his mother away from poverty. To provide a better life for his wife and children but also taking care of his siblings.
But the film shows that not all is perfect. Money and a better lifestyle can only go so far if you were raised or were taught how to interact with people of that lifestyle. And for Bo Wah Chuen, his wife coming from Tanka people, she knows that her husband can find a better wife, in her mind, she is not ready to take on such a role to be around the rich and wealthy.
In one scene, as she tries to interact with Chinese and British wives, she can not understand anyone, not wearing her hearing aid, which she has taken off because of fears it would embarrass her husband. She pours tea for the other women, like a maid, while the wealthy women look at her in shock of why is she pouring tea for them?
But the film is about knowing where you come from and taking on adversity and whatever challenge may come your way and making the best of your life but also not forgetting who you are.
For Bo Wah Chun, from the moment he looked at the mirror, early in the film, he knows that he is privileged to be part of a party of wealthy execs but deep inside, not comfortable because of where he came from and how badly he was treated all his life for being of mixed-ethnicity and teased about it. But knowing that he also came from a poor family and knowing full well that his mother will not abandon that lifestyle and his wife would not or does not know how to conform to the new lifestyle.
“Floating City” is such a moving and heartbreaking film that shows that hope, determination can lead to one having a better life but also for one to not forget where they came from. Possibly that pain and frustration is what helped make you leave and become a better person.
Is it a perfect film? Of course not. While casting Aaron Kwok as a man of mixed-heritage doesn’t seem right (especially since Kwok looks Chinese and is dark skinned), one wonders why another person was not cast that would fit the mold of a mixed-heritage character. But with that being said, Aaron Kwok was able to take on the role and play it with efficacy. And I also have to say that no matter how older Aaron Kwok looks, when he plays a younger role, he manages to do so. I’m sure there are some who would wish for a more active actor to be more emotional to the way he is discriminated but I suppose Aaron Kwok played the role passively because he knew that it was best not to show immense emotional activity when treated in such a manner.
Hee Ching Paw as the mother of Bo is probably the character that grabs at you. A wife of many children who has to make a sacrifice that will haunt/hurt her forever. But to also see how she is inspired by her son, learning how to write but also how to read. She is as inspiring as Bo Wah Chuen but unlike Bo, who accepts the new lifestyle, his mother is about working hard, not leaving her roots and focus on her dream of learning in hopes that she can reunite with her children that she had to give up.
As for the Blu-ray release, the picture quality for “Floating City” is very good, as we get a good balance of vibrant outdoor and indoor shots. Audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and on stereo. Dialogue is crystal clear, English subtitles are optional and are easy to read. I just wished this Blu-ray release of “Floating City” would have included special features.
Overall, “Floating City” is absolutely captivating, moving and powerful.
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