On the set of her 2017 film Our Time Will Come, Ann Hui is slapping wet mud all across the backs of actors. Her other hand is clutching a walking cane. She stands in the pouring rain, puffing cigarettes, and yelling orders. Reaching 70 years of age – and spending the past 40 plus years working in film – you’d think Hui’s love of film might have dwindled, but it’s brighter than ever. Upon seeing the final shot, Hui’s face beams – lighting up with joy as if it were her very first film. This is one of many short but intimate insights we get into the working life and career of the distinguished Hong Kong filmmaker Ann Hui in Man Lim Chung’s documentary Keep Rolling. A neat and focused dissection of the interwoven nature of Hui’s filmography and her own individual experiences, Keep Rolling is a personal and rewarding look into the life and work of one of Hong Kong’s most prolific filmmakers. 

Image © Courtesy of London East Asia Film Festival

Throughout her 40-plus year career, Hui has been awarded an MBE, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Venice Film Festival, won Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards three times, and acted as president of the Hong Kong Film Director’s Guild. Hui’s work is renowned for being at the forefront of the Hong Kong New Wave and she is known for often focusing on social change in Hong Kong and representing those who have been marginalised by society. As well as this, her films have branched across the genres of drama, thriller, martial arts, literary adaptation, and even horror. Man Lim Chung contends that each of Hui’s works – great or small – are all somehow influenced by her own life lessons and experiences. The documentary delicately interweaves Hui’s own personal accounts – as well as fond testimonials of doting friends and co-workers – with pieces of Hui’s own work to draw striking comparisons between her personal life and what’s on screen. 

Image © Courtesy of London East Asia Film Festival 

The documentary does not start off linear to Hui’s work – we do not begin by learning about the success of Hui’s early work on the TV series Below the Lion Rock or her first film, The Secret. Instead, it starts off with Hui’s 1990 film Song of the Exile – a film that focuses on a young woman’s experience returning to Hong Kong after studying in London. In the film, there are a myriad of flashbacks to the protagonist’s childhood where she was mostly raised by her grandparents while she maintained a strained relationship with her mother. All scenes that are undoubtedly influenced by Hui’s own upbringing. Hui and her sister admit Hui was always closer to her grandfather than her mother and even older archival interviews show Hui discussing the fallout of her mother’s strict nature – a woman who had to conceal her Japanese identity in post-war China for most of her life. With this, Hui then reflects on the notion of a ‘hometown’ – how she herself had moved from Anshan to Macau to finally settling in Hong Kong all before the age of six. Hui discusses how she resonates with the idea of being an immigrant in Hong Kong. Perhaps this is why her early ‘Vietnam Trilogy’ focused so strongly on giving a voice to the Vietnamese migrants in Hong Kong that had been displaced by the war.

Image © Courtesy of London East Asia Film Festival 

Next, we move on to Hui’s university years where she studied at both London Film School and the University of Hong Kong. Hui describes herself as a ‘studious’ student and being one of the many Hong Kong New Wave filmmakers who studied abroad before returning to Hong Kong. Hui’s nostalgic ponderings here are chopped up between clips of her film Starry is the Night – a film about a school counsellor having an affair with a student. This pattern of voyaging through stages of Hui’s life and comparing them to the films she made at the time continues throughout the documentary until we reach her current years and we follow Hui on a press tour of the 2017 Our Time Will Come. We see her bickering with assistants, chain-smoking in between interviews, and rolling her eyes about continuously being asked if her work constitutes as ‘feminist cinema’. While Hui’s passion for film has never faded, her patience with publicists and repetitive interviewers certainly has. 

Image © Courtesy of London East Asia Film Festival 

One of the most powerful aspects of Keep Rolling is its sheer honesty and vulnerability. Not just focusing on Hui’s sky-high moments and career highlights, Man Lim Chung also delves into creative ruts, financial disasters, and box office flops. ‘I’ve always told myself Ann Hui films don’t sell’ Hui laughs in one scene. We flick through the back-to-back films Hui created that crashed with critics and audiences. While acknowledging the impressive feat of creating 30-odd films in her lifetime, the documentary is also careful to note that it can be difficult to maintain such an impressive standard of quality in such a quantitative back-to-back conveyor-belt-type of filmmaking. Hui also recognises her own insecurities as a writer, stating how she feels guilty for relying on collaborators to pen her own ideas for her. We get a glimpse at on-set tantrums, arguments with crew, and even Hui storming off of her own sets – all instances Hui insists are healthy for the filmmaking process. She admits to being an incredibly sensitive person and recounts spending her younger years often crying every night after filming – something she now looks back upon and grins about. Now, we see Hui wrestle with her own insecurities regarding her outer appearance. We hear her list off the plastic surgeries she would get and see her refuse gorgeous gowns as she is afraid of bloating in them. Hui also insists she was never ‘delicate’ and recalls being mistaken for a man once whilst filming in Mongolia. Such fine details and humane notions are what leads Keep Rolling to be a refreshingly honest and open glimpse into Hui’s extraordinarily sensitive and biting personality without ever feeling forced or saccharine.

Much like its title suggests, Keep Rolling is a testament to how regardless of the setbacks and criticism – Ann Hui has managed to continue filmmaking for over four decades and continued to produce outstanding stories that span across all different focuses and genres. Tied together by Hui’s sharp wit and charm, Man Lim Chung’s documentary is a deeply personal and touching dive into the mind of one of the leading figures of the Hong Kong New Wave.

Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Abi Aherne

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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View of the Arts is run by female arts journalists and works with a diverse team of writers and film critics.

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