Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri
Cinematographers: Tam Chi-wai, Peter Ngor Chi-kwan
Struggling songwriter Kit has seen better days, especially now that his relationship with star singer Tracy has fallen apart. Broke, he moves into a rundown tenement above Min, an incredibly perky young girl who is determined to get Kit out of his shell and won't take no for an answer. Min's family are street singers and, as Kit soon surmises, the girl has great potential to move beyond this modest existence and into the recording industry. Transformed by his exposure to Min, Kit makes plans with her to start a career, but the unimaginable happens: After over ten years of perfect health, the bone cancer Min experienced as a child has returned. The willpower and zest for living which has helped keep Min alive for this long quickly extinguishes, and it is up to Kit to help her try and regain it.
The sleeper hit of 1993, C'est La Vie, Mon Cheri was produced on a small budget with little-known leads but won over HK moviegoers to a phenomenal degree and walked away with the Best Picture, Best Actress (Anita Yuen), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Paul Chun), and Best Supporting Actress (Petrina Fung) prizes at The HK Film Awards. Any synopsis makes the movie sound like the most hackneyed tearjerker in memory, and the final third does resort to some familiar devices. However, it does not really matter because by that point the audience is fully caught up in the lives of these characters and are ready to stay with the film, no matter what direction the plot takes. Derek Yee's script and direction sidestep most of the pitfalls intrinsic to this sort of material, and there is a wonderfully varied selection of music, covering everything from traditional opera to "In the Mood."
A key factor in the movie's popularity can be traced to the fact that it concentrates on common, everyday citizens, rather than the rich and glamorous icons who populate many HK features, thus heightening viewer identification. Also, a potent thread of nostalgia envelopes everything from the locations to the old-fashioned storyline, adding to that accessibility. The entire cast gives sensitive, committed performances but Anita Yuen is simply magical; C'est La Vie's success made her the busiest actress in HK for several years afterwards. In fact, she and Lau Ching-wan were re-teamed for a number of subsequent features, but none of those pairings match the wholly natural and remarkable chemistry they have here.