Ann Hui: Icon of Hong Kong’s ‘New Wave’ Cinema

Twelve years ago today, A Simple Life was released in theaters. This film went on to become one of the most critically successful films in Hong Kong’s history, and it’s no surprise that it was created by one of the most important members of Hong Kong’s New Wave of filmmakers, Ann Hui. 

Ann Hui is a director, screenwriter, producer, and actor, who is known for social commentary about Hong Kong in her films, spanning a wide range of topics such as women’s issues and class struggles. 

Ann started out as an assistant to a well-known Chinese film director, King Hu. She then transitioned to working in television, at one point directing dramas for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, an organization dedicated to addressing corruption within Hong Kong’s government. Two of these dramas were actually banned because they were considered so controversial. 

In 1979, Ann’s first full-length feature—The Secret—was nominated for the Golden Horse Award for Best Feature Film.

Ann’s first feature-length film was The Secret (1979), which tells the real story of a murder case that took place in the Western District of Hong Kong. Ann’s ability to tell the story in a riveting way while also creating an eerie ambiance, cemented her as a strong player in the Hong Kong ‘New Wave’ right away. The Secret was nominated for the Golden Horse Award for Best Feature Film (a showcase for Chinese films from all over the world). Since that time, according to IMDb, Ann has received over 50 international awards and almost 60 additional nominations.

After The Secret, Ann’s films began to center more around personal stories of regular people, stories with which she began to delve into her social and political commentaries. Among the most popular of these films is what is known as her Vietnam Trilogy, reflecting her concern for Vietnamese citizens during the Vietnam war. 

Boat People (1982), probably the most well-known of the trilogy, follows a Japanese photojournalist documenting life in Vietnam after the war. During his time in Vietnam, he meets several people and witnesses their devastation as they struggle to make ends meet and to live in an environment so freshly out of war. With Boat People, Ann won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director and Best Film. 

For the next few decades, Ann continued to create films which explored both the personal and political struggles of the types of people she interacted with every day, and even of herself. 

Song of the Exile (1990) is a semi-autobiographical film about a young woman who returns to Hong Kong for her sister’s wedding after living in London for several years. Drawing from her own experiences, the film explores struggles with identity and connection to family that one goes through after spending a long time away from home. 

A Simple Life is probably Ann’s most well-known and successful film.

A Simple Life, probably Ann’s most well-known and successful film, is about a film producer, Roger, and his long-time maidservant, Ah Tao, who suffers from a stroke and must go live in a nursing home. During Ah Tao’s time in the home, her relationship with Roger grows closer and stronger than it already was. As is Ann’s style, this is both a personal story and a social commentary; in the words of FF2 contributor Katusha Jin, “[The] film evolves into one about the social issues in Hong Kong about the aging population and the growing concerns about elderly homes. Throughout the film, there also exists an undertone about the uncomfortable issues of class difference.” Katusha goes on to say, “A lot of what happens in the film is relatable for the older generations in Hong Kong. They do not want to be a burden on the younger generation but also face fears when it comes to adapting to this latter stage of their lives.” 

A Simple Life won a “Grand Slam” (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress) at the Hong Kong Film Awards, as did another one of Ann’s films, Summer Snow (1995). These are the only two films to ever receive a Grand Slam, and they were both Ann’s. In 2012, Ann received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Asian Film Awards. 

Ann has continued creating films after all this time. In 2017, she directed Our Time Will Come, about a young schoolteacher and her mother living in Hong Kong during World War II. Of this film, FF2 Contributor Tracy Shen says, “What Hui does best—those intimate moments between mother and daughter and even the fine-drawn tension between man and woman (a rare look into romance in today’s overtly sexualized relationship of the sexes)—put the movie to an aesthetic of its own. The film has a deceptively simple appearance, but we are compelled to listen to what it has to say.”

From her ability to craft a poignant story to her unflinching looks at society’s problems big and small, it’s no wonder Ann has achieved such critical success. Though she is solidly an influential figure in Hong Kong cinema, Ann’s talent should be recognized worldwide. 

© Julia Lasker (3/9/2023) FF2 Media


Read Katusha Jin’s celebration of Ann Hui here.

Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of A Simple Life here.

Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Ann Hui’s The Golden Era here.

Read Tracy Shen’s review of Ann Hui’s Our Time Will Come here.

Visit Ann Hui’s IMDb page for a complete filmography including her extraordinary list of awards & nominations!


Featured photo: Credit to Far East Film Festival

Middle photo: A Simple Life. Credit to Far East Film Festival

Bottom photo: The Golden Era. Credit to International Film Festival Rotterdam

Tags: A Simple Life, Ann Hui, Asian Women Filmmakers, Boat People, Golden Horse Award, Hong Kong Film Awards, Hong Kong New Wave, Our Time Will Come, Song of the Exile, Summer Snow, The Golden Era, The Secret, Vietnam Trilogy, Women Filmmakers

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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