RAIFF 2012 | Floating City

Posted by Caroline Teng & filed under Film, Film Festival.

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Floating City

Director Yim Ho | Hong Kong 2012 | 104:00 | North American Premiere

Richmond Hill Opening Film

Friday Nov 16 2012 | 7:00 PM | Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts

Floating City by Yim Ho is an extremely difficult film to pen down because of the reality of the issues faced by the characters within the film. The beautifully shot film touches on themes such as identity, family, language, marriage, colonialism and more. Apart from just demonstrating racial prejudices, Floating City also acknowledges the existent hierarchy amongst Chinese locals.

The opening of the film plunges you right into the story of Bo Wah Chuen’s (Aaron Kwok) stormy beginnings. Set between the period of the 1970s and the 1990s, Hong Kong is under British colonial rule and many families still struggle to make a living through fishing. Bo’s family is no exception.

Bo Wah Chuen is a half-British, half-Chinese orphan who is taken in by a family who has just suffered a miscarriage. Growing up, there are whispers and hints of him being different from everyone else in the fishing village but he dismisses them as childish banter, never taking them to heart.

Bo’s world begins to change when he gains the opportunity to learn how to read and write Chinese at a school; his literacy leads to an opportunity to learn English and work as an office boy with the Imperial East India Trading Company.

It is in the company that Bo begins to experience the tangible effects of racism and begins to come to terms with the complexity of his mixed identity. Bo realizes that being able to speak English does not necessarily make him British and that his wife, Tai (Charlie Yeung) will never be able to fit into the social class that he has seemingly become a part of.

The film focuses on Bo’s life story but does not develop his character much. Instead, the viewer grasps at an idea of Bo’s personality through various incidents and interactions he has with the people around him. His character is rather subdued in contrast to the chaos that his life is surrounded by and though this seems unnatural at times, it speaks to Bo’s quiet, but unwavering, determination to succeed for his family’s sake.

The use of Cantonese, Mandarin Chinese and British English (with an emphasis on the various variations of accents) in this film emphasizes the intricate relationships between Bo and his wife, his colleague (Annie Liu) and his interactions with the British population in general, once he has attained higher social standing. Questions of national identity, personal identity, status and language come together in Bo’s character. He embodies the inexpressible experience of the post-colonial hybrid immigrant. Having said that, Floating City is a film that will speak to more than just the immigrant with an identity crisis. It discusses topics such as success, faith, the value of language and education, familial ties and more.

Just as Bo teaches his mother the meanings of each part of Chinese characters and how they come together as a whole to form one coherent meaning, so does the film in every shot hold its own meaning that comes together to paint a portrait of a man.

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