Amongst the 263 islands that make up Hong Kong, nestled near the Shenzhen border, sits Grass Island. Hiding away in a small fishing village on Grass Island is exhitman Ah Hoi (Tai-Bo). Retired from his life of crime, Ah Hoi now spends his days keeping a low profile and looking after his elderly mother, Ah Ma (Yee-Yee Yeung). One day, he’s visited by an old apprentice of his, Xiaoma (Yang Wang) who’s been tasked with killing Ah Hoi before the last ferry leaves the island. Directed by Linhan Zhang (Dinner with Stranger), The Last Ferry from Grass Island is a thoughtful, stripped-back and serene look at fate, life cycles and those living on borrowed time.

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Photo © Bering Pictures

Far from the grungy, dark metropolis world, you’d expect to find a hitman lurking in, Ah Hoi has turned to a life of simplicity and domesticity out in rural Hong Kong. Living in a small fishing cottage, the sights of lapping waves and freshly caught fish being fried as Ah Hoi’s mother blares reruns of Police Story are all scenes rarely linked to a life of murder. Cinematographer Giorgos Valsamis (who also shot the Palme d’Or winning short The Distance Between Us and the Sky) wonderfully captures the eerie calmness of the village in crisp blues and gentle meandering camera movements. Paired with fantastically realistic set design, Zhang cements his ability to procure detailed and authentic snippets of realism.

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Photo © Bering Pictures

Disturbingly calm about the scenario, Ah Hoi does not seem shocked to find Xiaoma coming to kill him. Instead, he welcomes her into his home and serves up a simple but hearty dish of salted fish and rice – even testing Xiaoma’s food beforehand to prove it’s not poisoned. Even after his last meal, Ah Hoi still maintains his dignity by calmly requesting ‘not here, I’ve just washed the dishes’ as Xiaoma pulls a gun on him at the kitchen sink. Already accepting this is a situation he has long anticipated, Ah Hoi is a man who’s come to terms with the end of his life.

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Photo © Bering Pictures

Zhang’s sophomore directorial venture is not a climatic, vengeful fight-to-the-death between master and student, but rather a slowed, restrained look at the inevitable and tragic outcomes of certain inescapable lifestyles. There’s little violence – what action does occur, occurs offscreen – and there’s very little angst between the two. Here, attempts of murder are seen more as a fact of life rather than a personal vendetta – the mindset of an impartial assassin. However, for this job, emotions do start to get in the way. With minimal dialogue, there’s a lot left unsaid and a lot left hanging in the air between Ah Hoi and Xiaoma, however, there’s an undeniable and deliberate hesitation and quiet sadness as the pair briefly reconnect.

The Last Ferry from Grass Island is a measured, deliberate and beautifully shot observation of complicated relationships, distorted ethics and the dreary acceptance of fate. Purposely bare and minimalistic but never boring, Zhang’s subdued portrayal of morality and death makes for a refreshing and sharp-minded watch.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Abi Aherne 

 

 

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About View of the Arts

We are open-minded individuals, for whom there are no limits. We always seem to spend our last few pennies on the arts instead of bread and butter! Oh well, it’s worth it! You will always find us in a cinema, at film festivals, fashion shows, concerts, galleries or the theatre. We are a group of female film critics, arts journalists, and photographers.

Category

Asian Cinema, Film, Film events and festivals, Foreign Films, General