New Wave Hong Kong director Yim Ho has a wide array of titles under his belt. Having come to prominence in the '80s, he's racked up film festival awards from around the world and is known for deconstructing the state of modern Hong Kong and its relationship to mainland China.
In such, the subject matter of Floating City doesn't come as a surprise, mirroring the life of a self-made man with the rapid change of Hong Kong from small fishing village to booming metropolis over latter half of the 20th Century. But what does surprise is just how amateurish and sloppy it all is, which is of substantial concern with such an epic and ambitious project.
In framing, Floating City has the right idea in juxtaposing present day disappointment—Bo Wah-Chuen (Aaron Kwok) as an older successful established man unable to convince his wife to attend a gala—with the road travelled to get him there. Jumping back fifty years, our protagonist is seen as an orphan infant, taken in by a humble family of Tanka boat people where he's raised as the eldest son despite looming discrimination over his half-Chinese, half-British background (his cousin points out that he has fish eyes).
Coming at the end of the British Colonial period, Chuen's tenacity eventual lands him an office job with the British East India Company. Here he climbs the ranks and eventually learns how to act and behave around the elite—with aid of the comely Fion (Annie Liu), who also works as a vessel of temptation in his marriage to fellow Tanka, Tai (Charlie Yeung)—eventually finding success at the expense of more traditionalist pursuits.
Yim Ho's decision to craft a humanity story around the double-edged sword that is geographic ideological shift is quite clever, making emotional something that is ostensibly theoretical. It's just unfortunate that Aaron Kwok plays his role without any real depth, and that many of the scenes appear unfinished, or unpolished, rarely flowing together with any sort of planned structure.
It's this limited technical aptitude and a miscalculation of emotional elements that holds Floating City back from greatness, leaving it to play out as embarrassing and heavy-handed in execution.
Floating City screens on Friday November 16th at 7pm at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. (Mandarin Films)