Simon Yam was in town yesterday introducing his film Echoes of The Rainbow at the NY Asian Film Festival. The guy is a legend, a true icon of Hong Kong cinema. He’s been in the game for over 30 years and played every kind of character but is probably best known for his badass cop and gangster roles. So this movie was a slight departure for him, playing a poor shoemaker struggling to provide for his wife and two sons in 1960’s Hong Kong. In his intro, Simon told us about his own childhood when his father would sometimes hit him seemingly for no good reason, and he couldn’t understand his father’s love until he was much older. This echoes the part of the movie where his character takes a hand to the younger son, and because of that scene and so many others that were really personal to him, he felt that out of all the movies he’s ever done, this one was the closest to his heart. He said to break out the tissues because we’d need them by the end of the film. And yes, he was right.
But it turns out, as strong as Simon Yam’s performance is, the one who really makes the movie is Buzz Chung, the child actor who plays “Big Ears”, the mischievous younger son who walks around with a fish bowl over his head pretending to be an astronaut when he’s not busy misbehaving. Whether he’s making you laugh, making you well up with tears, or just looking adorable going about his business, he absolutely steals every scene he’s in. I think that every great movie you see, you leave the theater with certain images that linger in your mind. Those are the images that will forever spring to mind whenever you think of the film. And if the movie was really affecting, as this one was, recalling those images will instantly trigger emotions in you. In this film, as gorgeous as the cinematography was, I find that all the images that have stuck with me in that way are vignettes of the expressive little Buzz Chung. Perhaps the most memorable for me was the scene of Big Ears running home after school only to find the family shoe store closed. He may have been too young to really understand why, but he knew instantly that something was very wrong, and his look of abject fear and desperation captured the direness of the situation in a very powerful way.
I admit I may have been particularly moved by this film because I see a bit of myself in the Big Ears character. Though I don’t think I was ever that naughty, my family always called me kwai doy which is Toisanese for mischievous boy, so maybe I was, I dunno. And I definitely saw a little bit of my mom in scenes when Big Ears’ mom would say things like “I just wish he’d behave” with a heavy sigh, but also with a little bit of a smirk. I didn’t really understand or appreciate it as a kid, but growing up in a Chinese family, and maybe especially because it was a Toisanese family, I was being instilled with the idea that having struggles are part of what make life rich. And the smirk comes from knowing that dealing with a son that’s a little bit of a rascal is a relatively good kind of struggle to have. It’s actually one of the themes of the movie- that life is supposed to be half good, half bad. And my own takeaway from it is that if you can embrace the bad, well, then it’s all good. And for me, this movie was definitely all good.