AAIFF Special Screening Review: “Happiness”

Article by Jazmin Justo
Photo by Xue Liang

“Happiness” is a Hong Kong film directed by Andy Lo, starring veteran actress, Kara Wai (Aunt Fen) and rising star Carlos Chan (Chan Kai-Yuk). At the special screening, Kara Wai was awarded the Asia Cinevision 2016 Asian Media Humanitarian Award for her activism in Hong Kong in helping the elderly with neuro-degenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Actress Kara Wai thanked the organization for their support and she hopes that the film spreads awareness about dementia and the needs of the elderly.

“Happiness” is a turbulent film that captures an intimate portrait between the characters as they face life’s frustrations. The film begins with a young man Chan Kai-Yuk, grieving with the urn of his mother, who recently passed away. Struggling with his grief, he moves to Hong Kong to find his father who abandoned him and his mother years ago. While searching for his father, Kai-Yuk has a chance encounter with a lady called Aunt Fen, who is very clumsy with her groceries. He helps her with her groceries and also fixes several things in her house. As the film continues, he’s fired from his job, is kicked out of his apartment, and breaks up with his girlfriend. Down in the dumps, Kai-Yuk seeks out the lady he helped the other day and moves in with her. He also meets a kind cialis original livraison rapide gentleman, Kam, who offers him a job at a local community center. Through these chance encounters, he manages to find a bit of stability in his life and his gruff attitude slowly begins to melt away. At the center, Kai-Yuk meets other elderly persons like Aunt Fen, who need assistance. Although his relationship with Aunt Fen is full of arguments and misunderstandings, he slowly begins to realize Aunt’s dementia and seeks help from his co-worker/crush, Xiaoyue. At this point, Chan Kai-Yuk’s relationship with Aunt Fen evolves from landlady and tenant, to stepmother and stepson, realizing how much they need one another. In between, Chan Kai-Yuk is able to find his father but their reunion is heartbreaking. Full of tension and heartfelt emotion, the film embodies the perplex meaning of family and love in the bustling city of Hong Kong.

After the screening, there was a Q&A with Carlos Chan and Kara Wai.

Q: Did you guys know each other before working on this film because your chemistry is on point.

Kara Wai: This is the third time working together and first he played the son, then the second time, as my friend and now, he plays the godson. I’ve seen him grown over the years. He started out as an actor who is working very hard but really doesn’t know how to act. But now he’s a very talented actor on screen.

Q: Carlos, what did you learn about acting from working with a veteran actress?

Carlos Chan: Whenever I’m working with Kara, I’m extremely nervous because Kara is the veteran in this industry and everytime I get on set, I’d always have my script next to me because I’m afraid of missing a few words and Kara is like “No! You need to throw the script away and be more natural! Let it go!” So I followed that and slowly I’m getting into the groove.

Q: How long did you guys rehearse for this film before shooting?

Kara Wai: We never rehearse before. Because once I rehearse I get the habit of doing the same thing over and over again, and it becomes a stiff performance. I’d rather be more spontaneous and go with the flow to be more natural.

Q: Does that mean do you have many takes and do you try many different things on the shoot?

Kara Wai: I only do one take because I doesn’t want to waste film and I’ve been 40 years in the industry. So back than they would use film, and if I did a lot of takes it would cost a lot of money. So whenever I get the script, I study it through and through and I make sure I understand the character and its intentions so when I get on set, I’m ready to play the character no matter the circumstances and I can be more spontaneous in my performance.

Q: Let’s talk about the story a bit. The story is a social commentary on contemporary Hong Kong and you can see the marginalized and disfranchised and using this community center as a hub. Carlo’s character is searching for his dad and is meets all sort of oddballs. I’d like to know how much of these character is you and how do you draw from your own life to illustrate these characters?

Carlos Chan: I’m nothing like my character. I have a very loving family and I grew up with my grandma. I drew a lot of inspiration from my friends who were going through similar circumstances as the character and I learned from them, so I was able to play the character.

Kara Wai: My character was extremely easy to play cause my mom suffered dementia in her 50’s and right now she’s 91 years old so I’ve been living with my mom with dementia for the past four years. When I was going through the script with the director, I used a lot of my mother’s stories. My character’s blueprint fit a lot with the character’s that viagra femme forum internet you see on screen. I’m trying to use this film to spread the word about dementia and Alzheimer’s. I’m trying to bring awareness to this issue because who knows that someone who is fifty can contract Alzheimer’s? So I’m just trying to bring more awareness by using film.

Q: I’m curious that the director’s mother also has dementia, did you collaborate on the different ways it manifested? And did you work with him on the script to bring the different experiences of dementia?

Kara Wai: So the way I worked on it with the director is that, the director wanted to focus on the human to human being spreading love and I was more interested in spreading the message of Alzheimer’s and dementia and so we worked together on the script. We kind of laid it all out and in a way, we kind of compromised in the middle and that’s what you see on screen today.

Q: For you Carlos, what did you learn about care-giving and from this subject matter that you would like to share with us?

Carlos Chan: What I learned most is about sharing love and joy. I learned mostly from Kara Wai because she was on set teaching me how to do things. I don’t know how familiar you guys are with film sets, but they are rushed and there’s not a lot of time or takes. But Kara took a lot of time to teach me and I really appreciate that interaction about caring and teaching, I learned it from her. Through this film, I also learned more about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Since I learned so much from this film, I hope people are more aware that people who are forty and fifty can also have this disease and it doesn’t have to wait until your seventy or eighty to contract such disease.

Q: As I was watching the film, I noticed that we didn’t knew very little about Auntie Fenny until the very end, that she had this lover who was the saxophone player. It seems like the combination of painting and art, I think there’s this concept of art therapy and music that kind of brings back memory for people who have Alzheimer’s, something that language cannot access. Would you talk a little bit about that?

Kara Wai: For my character, the director chat with me and asked “What kind of role or job would she have had in her life?” And based on my own experience, I have two older sisters who used to sing in a karaoke joint and before I was an actor, I also sang in a karaoke joint, so I said “I’ll be a singer” and the second was painting, cause using painting helps build memory for a lot of older people and so I decided to choose these two occupations to bring out the most in my character and people can question the motives behind these characters.

Q: Can you share a little bit of your experience of how you stay in the industry and still pick amazing projects like this?

Kara Wai: As an actor in the industry when I first started out, there were two categories. One category was for the serious actors and artist, and the second category was for action movie stars and that was the category I was in. After the industry went obsolete, I was out of the job for a long time and I started my own beauty business. I firmly believe if I hold down to my craft and my passion for acting than I can preserve in this industry and I can keep going.

Q: If you could choose any character, what role would you like to do?

Kara Wai: My life itself could be a movie, so I was thinking of doing a biography. Cause when I was a kid, when I was three, we were actually homeless begging on the streets for food. When I was thirteen, I was a Chinese dancer and at the age of sixteen, I began to act. So there’s no specific character I want to play, all I look for is a good script. Even if the character is very well written, if the script sucks than I cannot play the character. So what I look for right now at this point in my life is a good script and a good story.

Q: I think that’s an invitation for screenwriters to work on your life story. Carlos, what are some of the new projects you are working on?

Carlos Chan: Horror films. Horror films. I’m actually a scaredy cat. I was part of a lot of horror films and at first I got really scared, but after I got on set I thought, “Oh it’s nothing.” So just go and watch the film.

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