Rich characterisations adorn this talky slice-of-life drama from Ann Hui as it tackles love-hate family dynamics and dementia with bittersweet results.
Cast: Josephine Siao, Law Kar-Ying, Allen Ting, Roy Chiao, Law Koon-Lan
Plot: Tells the story of the relationship between a widower with Alzheimer’s disease and his daughter-in-law, May Sun, who is a housewife in her forties trying to cope with the upheavals in her family.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Best Actress & Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Berlinale); Won 4 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography; Nom. for 5 Golden Horses – Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Makeup & Costume Design
Distributor: Warner/Media Asia
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family; Dementia
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: Oldham Theatre – Asian Film Archive
As I continue my dive further into Ann Hui’s filmography, there are some films of hers that have been designated by critics as classics. This is one of them, from the mid-1990s.
Competed for the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, and winning Best Actress for Josephine Siao (who would retire from acting only two years later), Summer Snow is in need of restoration, considering the less-than-ideal quality of the digitised copy that is presently available.
Still, such is Hui’s gift for storytelling and directing actors that her film will warm its way into your heart in just a few minutes. Summer Snow can be hilarious, sentimental, cheerful, melancholic or tragic at the wave of Hui’s wand.
It’s tonally a very agile film, and so is its fervent, chaotic energy that hurtles us from one mood to the next. Yet while it might seem like a frenzied, talky affair, Hui’s focus on her characters and giving them rich characterisations is the film’s true delight.
“It is snowing.”
Siao plays May, the wife of a family who struggles to cope with the stressors in life—there’s work, family conflict, and then there’s ill health, the latter a key part of the narrative.
May’s father-in-law, played by Roy Chiao (that head monk in King Hu’s A Touch of Zen), has dementia and is becoming difficult to care for, so however frustrating things may be, they need to soldier on (quite literally in some scenes).
The love-hate family dynamics give us a slice-of-life effect, and while life may not always be a bed of roses, it is at the very least bittersweet. And if that is the taste we must cultivate in order to lead a meaningful life, then we must learn to expect it, much like falling snow in summer.