Sea Root

Reviewed by YTSL

It was Brian who mentioned a while back to me that the world of Hong Kong movies can be like a web, full of connections and also with various strands leading one off to explore it in diverse directions.  I have found his statement to be very true, and reveled in my appreciation of one particular gem often bringing about (further) "discoveries" re other efforts by individual talents who I have come to respect and admire.  A case in point:  My love for "Peking Opera Blues" inspired me to check out a host of other films which not only star Brigitte Lin, bear the imprint of Tsui Hark, contain action sequences choreographed by Ching Siu Tung and are shot by Poon Hang Sang but also productions whose scripts were written by Raymond To (e.g., "Hu-Du-Men" and also this quiet drama which was given a prime Christmas period release slot in 1995 and ended up spending a lengthy 54 days on Hong Kong cinema screens).

SEA ROOT's title refers to the film's fisherman protagonist (Root is portrayed by the versatile Lau Ching Wan).  It also well describes the character's ties with the sea, the strength of whose attachments can be seen in:  Him and his parents (who are played by Yip Chun and Lee Fung) opting to live -- not just work -- on boats (rather than land); along with the reticent man's tendency, for much of his life, to look to the sea rather than to people for comfort and solace as well as companionship.  Frankly, it was a definite plus for me that this offering unconventionally focused on the kind of folk whose milieu of choice is a far cry from those of such as the Triad Boyz and consumerist yuppies who pepper many a Hong Kong movie (something which is well illustrated by Root's being revealed to not know what or where Mongkok is as well as not realizing how much he stuck out like a sore thumb when walking leisurely and eating an ice cream cone on a Tsim Sha Tsui main street).

Lau Ching-wan and Alice Lau
With an opening sequence which utilizes genuinely old TV shows to communicate the thoughts of its scriptwriter directly to the audience, I can see how people could initially reckon that SEA ROOT is a paean to the good ol' days and ways.  Do not be misled though into thinking that this seriously unflashy production -- which relies on small items and actions (e.g., the discovery of what happens to certain laboriously written letters, the burning of a small wooden box) to successfully trigger powerful flashes of emotions -- is one which emphasizes past events over present (and future) occurrences.  In fact, even while it does seem to possess a nostalgic feel and contains its share of "flashback" segments (to more innocent and prosperous days), the film's makers turn out to be clearly asserting that it is not ideal to wallow in memories and live in the past, especially at the expense of coming to grips with contemporary realities and grasping opportunities that can make the future a happier time than now.
Yip Chun and Lee Fung
The consistent transmission of this main theme in SEA ROOT is a bit surprising when it is realized that the offering was helmed by as many as five directors (who are collectively credited as the Art Concept Creative Group).  Alternatively, different visual styles and tonal "feels" can be discerned in different sections of this work.  I particularly feel this with regards to the way the film ends (Even after giving it quite a bit of thought, I still can't figure out whether it was a dream or "real" sequence...).  The early portion in the movie when Root and his cousin go to a Mainland Chinese village to "buy" a girl (to help out Root's disabled mother with her chores; an act which no one seems to have moral qualms about) also seems to not too seamlessly fit with the others.
Lau, Woo Fung and Alice
Actually, this (re)viewer might go so far as to suggest that the one major discordant -- even false -- note that reverberates throughout SEA ROOT comes by way of its not uncharming principal female character (and lead actress).  Others might think differently but:  While I can definitely accept that a rural Mainland Chinese lass can idolize Anita Mui the way that "He's a Woman, She's a Man"'s Wing did Rose, I found it difficult to believe that someone who had previously never ventured out of her home area could be that streetwise -- and not just that eminently knowledgeable about Hong Kong's geography -- as Alice Lau's sparkly Lotus character.  It also didn't help matters that Ms. Lau -- at least in this offering -- has an air about her that makes it seem very unlikely that she would and could have led the life of the admittedly untraditional woman she was asked to portray in this movie.
Apart from that which arose from this one piece of miscasting though, the makers of SEA ROOT really ought to be commended for having made -- plot and all -- an authentic feeling as well as moving "slice of life" film that helps show the socio-cultural diversity of Hong Kong's populace.  It was novel and interesting too to get the alternative views of Ocean Park, Aberdeen and other areas of the former British Crown Colony that one is given in this movie.  At the risk of sounding facetious, I have to state that it also was refreshing to see a Christian priest character being portrayed by someone other than Spencer Lam (Father Fok was played instead by Woo Fung)!

My rating for this film:  7.



DVD Information:

Distributed by Mei Ah

The transfer is decent - clean and reasonably crisp.

Letterboxed

Mandarin and Cantonese language track

Burnt on Chinese and English subs.

9 Chapters

It has a trailer + attractions for Zhou En Lai (a big fan favorite!) and The Kids of Shaolin.