The Narrow Road 窄路微塵 (2022) Director: LAM Sum [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023]

The Narrow Road    The Narrow Road Film Poster R


Release Date: December 22nd, 2022

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: LAM Sum

Writer: Fean Chung (Screenplay),

Starring: Louis Cheung, Angela Yuen, Patra Au, Tung On-na,


In recent years there has been a push from specialist festivals to expand the range of Hong Kong films available to audiences beyond the policiers and Triad movies the island territory is synonymous with. Programmers have a rich field of titles to pick from as a new generation of local filmmakers have picked up the torch carried by the likes of Ann Hui, Mabel Cheung and Patrick Tam and tell stories about the lives of the “little people”. You know, those often relegated to collateral damage in heroic bloodshed films, the butt of a joke in raucous comedies, or a background presence in romances. Mad World (2016), Still Human (2019) and My Prince Edward (2020) are examples of portraits of common folk just trying to live life. Seeing whether they can overcome their obstacles or not often prove more electric and revealing of life on the island than any crime thriller. Narrow Road is another film to add to that list.

We are taken to Hong Kong in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our lead character Chak (Louis Cheung) runs a contract cleaning company. Burdened with debt and light on cleaning supplies due to shortages, he struggles along stringing together a meagre supply of work with tools and a vehicle often on the verge of breaking down. With the city closing up due to the virus, his only support comes from a few garrulous friends and his kind-hearted mother Ying (Patra Au) and a strong inner morality that sees him work hard in the belief that his honest efforts will pay off. It just has to.

Chak’s luck seems to turn just before his 38th birthday when he hires Candy (Angela Yuen), a spunky single mother to a cute-as-a-button daughter named Chu (Tung On Na). Desperate for a job to keep herself and her daughter off the streets, Candy starts cleaning. A patchwork family seems to be in the offing as Chak finds her to be a hard worker and she grows to be good at supporting him personally and professionally. However, behind her perky front Candy is a survivor, one not given to trusting others and one unafraid of ripping people off. We see that she shoplifts and scams. Chak does, too. Initially critical, exhibits compassion as he learns more about the mother and child. Audience, meanwhile, will know that Candy’s habits foreshadow later plot twists.

While there is something schematic to what happens to Candy and Chak, the performances are naturalistic enough to elude a sense of of cookie-cutter archetypes. Angela Yuen is just the right side of quirky to resist being irritating and Fean Chung’s script gives her character moments of introspective dialogue and growth to elicit viewer empathy. Chak, as a character, clearly embodies a high moral standard. It may be old fashioned and somewhat naïve, but his perseverance in the face of pressure presents a positive message for audiences to keep on keeping on in the most trying circumstances. There is something admirable in that. Louis Cheung is understated in his performance and imbues him with a warmth and dignity that should win over all but the most cynical.

What makes the film truly stand out is the atmosphere the Hong Kong setting evokes as we follow the characters in their work. We see signs of a stalled economy as told through shuttered shops, signs telling of foreclosed businesses, and cancelled events. The wealth disparity between rich and poor is always evident. We are taken from squalid subdivided windowless apartments of the poor to a luxury apartment with stunning views of Causeway Bay(?) and the ample supplies of masks that the owners can hoard. In one heart-rending scene, Chak and Candy clean up the stains left behind by the body of an elderly man left to die alone in a shoebox apartment, a fate that we sense happens all too often to the forgotten working poor of Hong Kong. Add social unrest to the mix as talk of emigration is often heard. These situations clearly shape the characters and their actions while offering an air of realism to the film that makes it feel relevant and informative.

There are many montages of the characters working hard to clean and they convince but the most moving sequences are the small acts of kindness that the characters perform for each other or for themselves. The silent prayers, slipping money to each other, or simply sharing time looking out over a skyline or harbourconveyed with some glorious long shots – or joking about horse racing. These things feel uplifting and make the film worth watching even more as they remind us thate that better days will arrive. I think the film really works because of this inspirational sense of working-class solidarity, especially at a time when the world seemed to abandon those at the bottom.

The sight or working-class characters struggling keeping their heads just above water as a deluge of economic woes and Covid-related burdens threaten to drown them is felt and so Chak’s relentless determination to do the right thing in the face of adversity gains more power and it is hard to be disagree with such a positive message

The Narrow Road plays at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2023

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