1960′s Hong Kong In Echoes Of The Rainbow

1960′s Hong Kong In Echoes Of The Rainbow

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
BIG Pictures

Original release: March 11th, 2010
Running time: 117 minutes

Country of origin: Hong Kong
Original language: Cantonese with English subtitles

Writer and director: Alex Law

Cast: Simon Yam, Sandra Ng, Buzz Chung, Aarif Lee, Evelyn Choi

One of my favourite things about cinema is that it can be a gateway into another world, a world I know nothing about, a world which has passed me by. I want to know the little details, the love stories behind the historical events, the sibling rivalries woven into press clippings.

Colonial Hong Kong was one of these worlds. Sure, we can all go on Wikipedia and learn some facts, but with a movie we can get under the skin of the people who lived it, and become immersed in their experiences.

Set in 1960s era Hong Kong, Echoes of the Rainbow follows the life and trials of the working-class Law family as they try to keep their business and lives afloat in the harsh realities of a British colony. In an autobiographical, nostalgic look back at his early childhood, director Alex Law gives an emotionally charged film taking in history, politics, and socioeconomic issues of the time.

Big Ears (Buzz Chung) is eight years old with a bent for misbehaving, stealing and crying when he gets caught. He shares a room with his older brother Desmond (Aarif Rahman), an overachieving scholar with a soft spot for the affluent Flora (Evelyn Choi) and tropical fish. Mr and Mrs Law struggle financially, trying to keep their shoe shop together, literally during one hardcore typhoon. Through the families struggles, we are privy to the enduring love between a husband and wife, the tough love between parents and a misbehaving child, and the tender hero-worship between two brothers.

Echoes Of The Rainbow

Echoes of the Rainbow is a huge film, sprawling verging on epic, creating a tapestry of life in Hong Kong, not focussing on just one aspect . The core of the film is family, and it explores the unbreakable, if not always spoken, bonds between it’s members.

The social and political background is shown in moderation, and fittingly so considering our protagonist is eight years old. The British policeman is brash and rude and aggressive, demanding more money for the rent of the shoe store, his inherent racism towards the Chinese unconcealed. His superiority complex is uncomfortable to watch as he talks down to the Laws. The corruption in society is so endemic that you have to bribe a nurse for a drink of water in the hospital.

The difference between the social classes is illustrated between Desmond and Flora too. Desmond is essentially the perfect teenage boy; he’s popular, handsome, smart, and breaks the school records in sports. The only thing he hasn’t got is wealth, which Flora’s family has in abundance. The difference between their respective aquariums is pointed, and Desmond feels threatened. Furthermore, Flora’s family is moving to San Francisco, like, as we’re told, all of the families who can afford to.

These complex social and political issues are interesting, and they make for a much richer film. Without the context of the time, Echoes of the Rainbow would be less substantial and less enjoyable film. These issues are not widely reported, they happened forty years ago and are not taught in schools, making it all the more important for them to be represented in film.

On a larger scale, the ebb and flow of luck and fortune is shown. When the neon sign goes on the blink, it’s noted that half of ‘shoe’ means ‘woe’. Mrs Law often comments that good times will follow the bad times, and to ride out the peaks and troughs of life, it’s important to stay tight as a family unit.

Echoes Of The Rainbow

The style of the film feels very large. Wing Lee Street, where the picture was filmed is a real street, and many other of the scenes are filmed on location too, adding to the overall sense of realism. The typhoon scene was very well filmed too, the family’s shop and home literally being ripped apart. The music was well matched, playing to nostalgia without being too cloying. Desmond’s favourite song is I Wanna Be Free by The Monkees and this is played throughout the film, a recurring motif of the hope and aspirations of the two brothers, as well as serving as a reminder that Hong Kong was under British rule.

The cast was very strong, the actorss putting a lot of heart into their performances. Buzz Chung was adorable and infuriating, swinging between cute to crying in less than two seconds. Sandra Ng was the heart and spine of the family, staying strong even when her life was falling apart. She showed a lot of emotion in her eyes and a solid jaw, determined to carry on. Simon Yam, too, gave a realistic portrayal of a father, exasperated and proud in equal measure, unable to show his real emotions to his sons. Aarif Lee went on to win Best New Performer for his role in this picture. He gives a sensitive performance of someone who should have a charmed life ahead of him but instead has to face the loss of their girlfriend and then their own mortality.

This all adds up to an emotional film, one that draws an audience into a familiar world but gives them a strong story with solid, well rounded characters. It is quite long, almost two hours, but persevere and you will be rewarded. My absolute favourite thing about Echoes of the Rainbow, however, was how it’s power transferred from the screen into the real world. It was filmed on location on Wing Lee Street, once described as the seediest street in Hong Kong. Before the film, it was due to be redeveloped, destroying many 1960s and earlier architecture and countless stories held within them.

But after the international success of Echoes of the Rainbow, festival appearances and award wins, the street became a visitors destination in it’s own right, and the plan was scrapped. If this doesn’t prove how important film is in retelling history and influencing the present and future, and in only 117 minutes, then I don’t know what does.

Echoes Of The Rainbow

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