Instantly recognisable Hong Kong supporting actor Liu Kai Chi (recently in “The Stool Pigeon”, “The Detective” plus sequel, and more) gets a rare chance to headline with fanciful drama “The Way We Were”. Marking the debut of theatre director Hui Shu Ning and Lau Kin Ping, the film revolves around the amusing (though very believable) idea of remaking the seminal television drama “The Bund”, with Liu as a one time actor still desperately hoping to hit the big time. Support comes from popular actress singer Fiona Sit (“Break up Club”) as his daughter, along with Sin Lap Man (“Lan Kwai Fong”), Tats Lau (“Team of Miracle”), singer Pakho Chau (“Once a Gangster”) and radio DJ Danny So.
Liu Kai Chi plays Cheong Kwai, a middle-aged man unable to forget the 15 minutes of fame he enjoyed 20 years back as a minor character in “The Bund”. Now working in a convenience store, he still clings to a dream of making it big as an actor, despite the fact that his obsession has already cost him his wife and has left his relationship with his neglected daughter Kiki (Fiona Sit) in tatters. After an unexpected bit of good fortune lands him with a considerable sum of money, Cheong Kwai decides to seize the bull by the horns and produce his own remake of “The Bund” to re-launch his career. However, he’s soon up to his neck in problems, and when it becomes clear that Kiki has had enough of his nonsense, he finally has to re-evaluate what is truly important to him.
“The Way We Were” is actually a lot more oddball than expected, and takes a while for the viewer to get a handle on it, kicking off with some disorientating jumps between Cheong Kwai’s past career as an actor, his fantasies, and his less exciting everyday life. This mixture continues throughout, with musical numbers and surreal sequences blurring the line with reality. In this, the directors’ theatrical background comes through very strongly, and the film frequently has the look and feel of a wild stage production. Although a touch random in places, this generally works pretty well, making the film enjoyably unpredictable and giving it a very different and innovative air. The film’s visuals are suitably colourful and energetic, with some unusual split screen work and creatively wacky sequences that at times hark back to the Hong Kong comedies of old.
The plot itself is similarly leftfield and fun, with the whole idea of revolving around his desire to remake “The Bund” neatly grounding the film in local culture as well as providing the opportunity for plenty of amusing observations on the entertainment industry. In this respect, the script is reasonably clever, throwing in some light hearted self parodying and benefitting from a post modern air without ever pushing things too far. Unsurprisingly, this does result in a fair bit of the expected lampooning of other films from Hong Kong and abroad, though these are for the most part successful, as are some satirical digs at product placement and the trials and pressures of commercial film making.
Ultimately, the film belongs to Liu Kai Chi, and it’s certainly great to see the always likeable actor getting the opportunity to take a leading role. Although Cheong Kwai is a deeply flawed man, pursuing his dreams at the expense of his other responsibilities and relationships, he manages to keep him likeable and sympathetic, with a hangdog expression and unwavering determination that make him an easy protagonist to root for. The rest of the cast all seem to be having a good time, which helps to lift the general mood, and though Fiona Sit doesn’t have a great deal to do until the final act, her subplot as Cheong Kwai’s neglected daughter at least adds a touch of emotional meat.
These later dashes of melodrama aside, “The Way We Were” is an enjoyably silly and highly original effort that stands out from the crowd. With Liu Kai Chi on fine form, it’s a must see for fans, and with a good cast all round and some imaginative direction from Hui Shu Ning and Lau Kin Ping, it’s the kind of film which really should be seen more often.
Lau Kin-Ping, Hui Shu-Ning (director)
CAST: Fiona Sit