Newspaper article International New York Times

Lives of Rich and Poor Cross in Hong Kong ; Flora Lau's Film Looks at a City Weighed Down by Economic Inequality

Newspaper article International New York Times

Lives of Rich and Poor Cross in Hong Kong ; Flora Lau's Film Looks at a City Weighed Down by Economic Inequality

Article excerpt

Flora Lau makes her big-screen filmmaking debut with "Bends," in which a wealthy Hong Kong woman finds herself enmeshed in the problems of a poor mainland couple.

For all of Beijing's political control over Hong Kong, in the city itself the tables are often turned: Mainland Chinese provide low-cost labor that propels the booming economy, and pregnant mothers have long flocked to Hong Kong's hospitals, where giving birth is a child's ticket to permanent residency in the city, with its better doctors and quality schools.

This tension is at the heart of "Bends," a film that opens here on Thursday and in Taiwan on Friday. In it, a wealthy Hong Kong woman finds herself enmeshed in the complicated life of a poor mainland couple. Her driver -- worried about facing penalties for violating China's one-child policy and wishing for a better life for his child -- seeks to have his wife deliver her second baby across the border in Hong Kong.

From her lavish apartment on Victoria Peak, the woman also sees her affluent lifestyle start to crumble as her businessman husband disappears, her credit cards are frozen and her daughter's boarding school tuition is left unpaid.

The movie, which has echoes of Woody Allen's recent "Blue Jasmine," is the big-screen debut of the Hong Kong filmmaker Flora Lau, who wrote and directed the film after receiving notice for her short films, one examining the plight of the tens of thousands of foreign domestic helpers in the city. The movie was shown at the Cannes International Film Festival in May, the only Hong Kong work to get that honor this year.

Ms. Lau, 34, a Hong Kong native, was educated at Columbia University, majoring in economics and working at Morgan Stanley before going to film school in London. As she returned to Hong Kong, she saw a city constantly changing, but one increasingly riven by economic inequality fueled by its growing prosperity. "At first, it was the Filipino domestic helpers' situation that interested me," she wrote in an email about the university graduates who had to leave their country to take up domestic work in Hong Kong.

"As I found out more," she added, "it was their stories that touched me and I felt a need to study film as a language to express what I was observing. Since film school, I returned to Hong Kong once again and saw that the class divide -- and the Hong Kong versus mainlander divide -- was intensifying."

Her movie captures the opulent lifestyle of the "tai tai," the term for a prosperous married woman who need not work, a figure who is alternately ridiculed and envied in Hong Kong. In "Bends," that character, Anna Li, played by Carina Lau (she is not related to the filmmaker), spends her days lunching at pricey restaurants with friends, downing wine at midday and being ferried about by her driver, Fai, played by Chen Kun. …

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