The Way We Are, 2008, Ann Hui

Ordinary Heroes
Films by Ann Hui

March 2 to April 29, 2023

Ann Hui was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 77th Venice Film Festival in 2020, becoming the first female director to receive the accolade. But this highly prestigious prize is just  one addition to a long list of credentials. Four of her films are on the Hong Kong Film Academy's list of the one hundred best Chinese films of all time (The Secret, The Spooky Bunch, Summer Snow and Boat People). Her six Best Director prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards is an all-time record and, in the ceremony's four decades-long history, only two films have won in each major category in a given year: both were directed by Hui (Summer Snow, A Simple Life). Her films have been featured in the competitions of Europe's most important festivals, Cannes, Venice, and Berlin, and, finally, in 1997 she became the last Hong Kong citizen to be honored with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Despite all this recognition, Ann Hui remains an elusive figure.
Born in Anshan, Manchuria in 1947 shortly prior to the city's capture by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Hui moved with her Japanese mother and Chinese father to Macau two years later before settling in Hong Kong when she was five. After studying literature at the University of Hong Kong, she enrolled in the London Film School in 1972. Upon her return, Hui worked as assistant to the great King Hu. Her responsibilities even included proofreading the English subtitles for his martial arts masterpiece The Touch of Zen. Hui went on to work in television, directing docudramas, news programs and short films. It is noteworthy that the members of the first generation of the Hong Kong New Wave all got their start in directing for television. Hui is the wave's pioneer and the only woman in the first generation. Alongside Tsui Hark, she is among the group's most prolific filmmakers, with 28 features to her name.
Her biography naturally lends the films themes of transience and searching for home, the hard work of familial love, a sensorial experience of the past, the struggle to find one's place, and identification. Hui also depicts the devastation and turmoil of the 20th century, whose shards remain forever stuck inside the bodies of those who lived through it, with such clarity and emotion that her filmography is a kind of perfect common link, a key to East Asian cinema. In interviews, she tends to be modest about her directing style, but does admit to aiming to create a chronicle of Hong Kong life.
Ann Hui is a filmmaker whose total body of work is larger than the sum of its individual parts. Like all major filmmakers, her work can be divided into cycles that rhyme with each other. Genre films comprise roughly a half of Hui's filmography: action movies, ghost stories, melodramas, thrillers, war films, horror, wuxia... After all, she belongs to the Hong Kong tradition, which thrives on turning popular genre cinema into art. In addition, there may well be no other East Asian director who has created such a detailed panorama of activist movements and social institutions. Themes incorporating refugees, social workers and corruption developed out of her early television work (during this time, she made thirteen films directly relating to social topics) into her feature films.
She is without a doubt an actors' director whose filmography could serve as a guide to the major figures of Hong Kong cinema: Andy Lau, Josephine Siao, Chow Yun-fat, Maggie Cheung, Cora Miao, Deanie Ip, Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh, Jacky Cheung and Lee Kang-sheng have all had roles in Hui's universe. Cinema itself rarely becomes the subject of her films, but it is not hard to read A Simple Life – about a film producer traveling to mainland China to work on historical films – as a bitter metaphor for the Hong Kong film industry and its decline.
Like many other female filmmakers of her generation, Ann Hui hesitates to call herself a feminist. Still, she is no stranger to feminism and her best films can be considered high points of feminist cinema. Women are the driving force of her films. As she has explained in interviews, she "just finds it easier to relate to female protagonists." Usually reluctant to talk about politics, Hui has said that she has never been directly interested in the subject and does not consider herself an expert. Nevertheless, nearly all of her films are deeply embedded in political and historical contexts.
Her formal method is based on a polyphony of voices and viewpoints. These include characters' internal monologues, their letters, thoughts they voice, and interviews. Her vocation as a chronicler, her considerable output for television, her range of subjects and, in particular, her attention to minorities and disenfranchised people of all stripes as well as activists and social structures, place her in close quarters with Yugoslav-Serbian director Želimir Žilnik. Unlike Žilnik, however, she is not an activist filmmaker, but rather an active observer with a deep interest in people and tackling very different subjects.
What is politics? What does activism mean and what is its agenda? Ann Hui seems to suggest that an attempt at love and tenderness, however fruitless, can be a political gesture. (Boris Nelepo)

Unfortunately, Ann Hui cannot be in Vienna for the opening of the retrospective as previously announced.

In collaboration with Red Lotus Asian Film Festival Vienna