Ann Hui

Hong Kong film director, producer, screenwriter, and actress.

Ann Hui On-wah, BBS MBE (born 1947) is a Hong Kong film director, producer, screenwriter, and actress who is one of the most critically acclaimed Hong Kong New Wave filmmakers. She is known for her films about social issues in Hong Kong. Her film works cover different categories, including literary adaptation, martial arts masterpieces, semi-autobiographical works, female issues, social phenomena, political changes, and also thrillers. She served as the president of the Hong Kong Film Director's Guild from 2004 to 2006.

Hui has won numerous awards for her films. She won Golden Horse Awards (GHA) for Best Director three times (1999, 2011, 2014); Best Film at the Asia Pacific Film Festival; and Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards six times (1983, 1996, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018).

Only two films have achieved a Grand Slam (winning best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and best actress) at the Hong Kong Film Awards; they are Summer Snow and A Simple Life, both of which were directed by Ann Hui. She was honored for her lifetime accomplishments at the 2012 Asian Film Awards. In 2017, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) invited Hui to become a member.

On 23 May 1947, Hui was born in Anshan, Liaoning Province, Manchuria. Hui's mother was Japanese and her father was Chinese. In 1952, Hui moved to Macau, then Hong Kong at the age of five. Hui attended St. Paul's Convent School.


In 1972, Hui earned a Master's in English and comparative literature from the University of Hong Kong. Hui studied at the London Film School for two years. Hui completed her thesis on the works of Alain Robbe-Grillet, a French writer and filmmaker.


When Hui returned to Hong Kong after her stay in London, she became the assistant to the prominent Chinese film director, King Hu. Her breakthrough directorial work began with several drama series and short documentaries on 16mm for the Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) television station. In 1977, Hui produced and directed half a dozen films for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a Hong Kong organization created to clean up government misconduct. Two of these films were so controversial that they had to be banned from airing. A year later, Hui directed three episodes of Below the Lion Rock, a documentary series depicting the lives of people from Hong Kong, under the public broadcasting station, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). The most recognized episode of Hui's is Boy from Vietnam (1978), which is the start of her "Vietnam trilogy."

In 1979, Hui finally directed her first feature-length film, The Secret, which earned the Golden Horse Award for Best Feature Film.

In the 1980s, Hui's career was growing on the international cinema circuit. The most popular films for that time were Eastern variations of Hollywood-oriented gangster and action films. But Hui did not follow the trend and preferred to create more personal films. Many of her best films involved themes pertaining to cultural displacement. In particular, her central characters are often individuals who are forced to relocate to another country and shown to be struggling and learning to survive. Hui tends to explore the characters' reactions to different environments and their responses to their return home. During this "New Wave" period, most of her films are sharp and tough, with satirical and political metaphors, reflecting her concern for "people"; her concern for women; voicing for orphans who have been devastated by war; and also voicing for Vietnamese refugees. Her best-known works, which fall under this category, are The Story of Woo Viet (1981) and Boat People (1982) – the remaining two parts of her "Vietnam trilogy." Boat People won the Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Film and Best director. Although Hui has directed some generic films, another common theme she works with is family conflict, such as in the 1990 film My American Grandson.

Hui's concern for regular people, and especially women, became the most common theme in her films. She creates stories of the subjective experience of women. One of her most personal works is Song of the Exile (1990), a semi-autobiographical film about family connections and identity. It depicts the story of a young woman, Cheung Hueyin, returning to Hong Kong for her sister's wedding after studying film in London for several years. Hueyin and her mother, who is Japanese, do not seem to have a steady relationship. As the film follows Hueyin's journey to her mother's hometown in Japan, Hueyin and her mother are forced to reexamine their relationship, as both have lived through being uprooted from one's own country. The film won both the Hong Kong Film Awards and Golden Horse Award for Best Director. She served as the president of the Hong Kong Film Director's Guild in 2004.

In the 1990s, Hui's worked on more commercialized films. She directed fewer films herself, as she focused on behind-the-scenes work for other filmmakers. The theme of displacement still recurs in most of her work. During the mid-1990s, Hui tried to start a film project about the Tiananmen Square massacre and the reactions of Hong Kong citizens. The project was never made due to lack of funding. The term Tiananmen Square massacre is no longer in use by the Chinese government, as it portrays a harsher image of the incident. It is now more recognized as the Tiananmen Square protests or the June Fourth Incident. Throughout her career, Hui has often taken chances to develop more intense and ambitious films, while making a name for herself.

Hui has said in an interview about her desire to work on more socially conscious projects. She was aware of the difficulties in finding such projects that would both "attract investors as well as appeal to the public." Her goal was to "present something that is watchable and at the same time attractive" and allow the public to analyze the social issues involved. Although Hui is best known for making controversial films, the interview, in particular, was describing the horrors of increased crime and unemployment rates in Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong. The two films of Hui's that focus on these issues are The Way We Are (2008) and Night and Fog (2009), while maintaining a motif of displacement.

The annual and highly anticipated Hong Kong International Film Festival was held for its 45th edition in April 2021. Hui is one of the six veteran Hong Kong filmmakers who directed renowned local director Johnnie To Kei-fung’s highly anticipated anthology series: "Septet: The story of Hong Kong (2021)". The other filmmakers include Sammo Hung, Ringo Lam, Patrick Tam Kar Ming, Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-ping and Johnnie To. The short files were shot entirely on 35mm film with each of them touches on a nostalgic and moving story set across different time periods, with everyone acting as an ode to the city.

Vietnam Trilogy

Boy from Vietnam (1978) is the first film of Hui's Vietnam Trilogy. This film is based on historical background: in the late 1970s, a large number of Vietnamese boat people illegally immigrate to Hong Kong. This film describes the experience of those boat people who risk their lives and lives in exile in Hong Kong, and they encountered setbacks, discrimination, and even exploitation when they were only teens.

In 1981, The Story of Woo Viet continued to describe the problem of Vietnamese boat people. Woo Viet, an overseas Chinese of Vietnam, smuggles himself into Hong Kong after trying many times. He gets a pen pal from Hong Kong to help him start over in the United States. However, he is stuck in the Philippines as a hired killer for saving his love. This film describes the hardship of smuggling, the memories of war, the sinister nature of refugee camps, and the crisis in Chinatown.

In 1982, the People's Republic of China, just ending a war with Vietnam, permitted Hui to film on Hainan Island. Boat People (1982) set the background in 1978, after Communist Party lead Vietnam, through the point of view of a Japanese photojournalist named Shiomi Akutagawa, showed the condition of society and political chaos after the Vietnam War. Boat People was the first Hong Kong movie filmed in Communist China. Hui saved a role for Chow Yun-Fat, but because at that time Hong Kong actors working in mainland China were banned in Taiwan, Chow Yun-Fat declined the role out of fear for being blacklisted. Six months before filming was set to start, and after the film crew was already on location in Hainan, a cameraman suggested that Hui give the role to Andy Lau. At that time, Andy Lau was still a newcomer in the Hong Kong film industry. Hui gave Lau the role and flew him to Hainan before a proper audition or even seeing what he looked like.

The transition from television to film

Hui left television in 1979, making her first feature The Secret, a mystery thriller based on real life murder case and starring Taiwanese star Sylvia Chang. It was immediately hailed as an important film in the Hong Kong New Wave. The Spooky Bunch (1981) was her take on the ghost story genre, while The Story of Woo Viet (1981) continued her Vietnamese trilogy. Hui experimented with special effects and daring angles; her preoccupation with sensitive political and social issues is a recurrent feature in most of her subsequent films. Boat People (1982), the third part of her Vietnamese trilogy, is the most famous of her early films. It examines the plight of the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War.

In the mid-1980s Hui continued her string of critically acclaimed works. Love in a Fallen City (1984) was based on a novella by Eileen Chang, and the two-part, ambitious wuxia adaptation of Louis Cha's first novel, The Book and the Sword, was divided into The Romance of Book and Sword (1987) and Princess Fragrance (1987). 1990 saw one of her most important works to date, the semi-autobiographical The Song of Exile. The film looks into the loss of identity, disorientation, and despair faced by an exiled mother and a daughter faced with clashes in culture and historicity. As in the film, Hui's own mother was Japanese.

Post-hiatus work

After a brief hiatus in which she returned briefly to television production, Hui returned with Summer Snow (1995), about a middle-aged woman trying to cope with everyday family problems and an Alzheimer-inflicted father-in-law. In 1996, she was a member of the jury at the 46th Berlin International Film Festival.

Eighteen Springs (1997) reprises another Eileen Chang novel. Her Ordinary Heroes (1999), about Chinese and Hong Kong political activists from the 1970s to the 1990s, won the Best Feature at the Golden Horse Awards.

In 2002, her July Rhapsody, the companion film to Summer Snow and about a middle-aged male teacher facing a mid-life crisis, was released to good reviews in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Her film, Jade Goddess of Mercy (2003), starring Zhao Wei and Nicholas Tse, was adapted from a novel by Chinese writer Hai Yan.

In 2008, Hui directed the highly acclaimed domestic drama, The Way We Are, which was then followed up by Night and Fog. In an interview with Muse Magazine, Hui explains how she sees the two films as about something uniquely Hong Kong: '(on Night and Fog) I think that this film can represent something; it can express a kind of feeling about the middle and lower class, and maybe even Hong Kong as a whole. Everyone can eat at McDonald's or shop at malls. That's a way of life, but spiritually, there's dissatisfaction, especially with families on welfare. They don't really have any worries about life, but there's an unspeakable feeling of depression.'

A Simple Life (2011) premiered at the 68th Venice International Film Festival where it was nominated for the Golden Lion. The film centers around the relationship of two characters, Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) and Roger (Andy Lau). It is not a love story, but rather a tale about a master and his long-time servant and was based on the relationship producer Roger Lee had with his servant. The film was chosen as Hong Kong's submission to the Academy Awards but did not make the shortlist. Hui could not afford the cost for filming A Simple Life until found Andy Lau. ”You make a movie and a lot of people ask you why you do it, and this time I was moved by one person's behavior, by the script." "Because she has always shot a very authentic Hong Kong theme, the reaction on the mainland will not be too special," said Andy Lau. When Hui reached him, she said something that made him sad: "I haven't had enough money for a long time. Can you help me?" "Andy Lau said it touched him. "I feel so sad. Sometimes when you make a movie, they say, aren't you afraid to lose money? It's not the best-selling, it's not the most famous, but sometimes you're moved, maybe it's the action, maybe it's the script, and the many little drops add together to make me do it. I work hard to make money every day, so I won't be stupid. He invested 30 million Yuan before Yu Dong (President of Bona Film Group Limited) joined. "Both the director and I wanted the film to come out, so we calculated the cost and used it to produce, what I lost was just my salary, just count it as finding someone to play with me for two months.

Hui's 2014 film The Golden Era premiered Out of Competition at the 71st Venice International Film Festival. The film was a biopic based on the lives of writers Xiao Hong and Xiao Jun. Tang Wei and Feng Shaofeng starred.

Our Time Will Come (Chinese: 明月幾時有) is a 2017 war film, starring Zhou Xun, Eddie Peng and Wallace Huo. It revolves around the resistance movement during Japan's occupation of Hong Kong. The film opened in China on 1 July 2017 to commemorate and to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China.

The 2021 documentary film, Keep Rolling, provides an insight into her life's work.

Style and Themes

Hui, as a female director, starts with the female perspective, depicting the hearts of women. Most of her films show the daily life of women in Hong Kong and create vivid female images through delicate artistic expression. In her movies, women are independent individuals with their own personalities. Her films are always full of a sense of drama, but they do not make the audience feel hopeless. They all have an atmosphere of grief but without pessimism. In her films, there is no terrible conflict, but she uses a plain method to represent the female world. In her movies, women always feel powerless, but all of them do not surrender to fate and work hard and strive. Hui's feminist film works are rich with women's emotions and female consciousness, making the audiences feel the struggle and warmth of women's lives.

As one of the leading figures of Hong Kong's New Wave, Hui has been continuously challenging herself and trying to broaden her film career while bringing audiences surprises. This is highlighted in her tendency for telling women's stories over the years, forming her unique artistic style. As a female filmmaker, Hui has created various female images by using the film language, which is unique in the Hong Kong film industry.

Hui's films reflect diverse female images. Firstly, she creates submissive women, for example, with Sum Ching in The Story of Woo Viet (1982), Cam Nuong in Boat People (1982), Mang Tit Lan in Zodiac Killers (1991), and Ling in Night and Fog (2009). Facing the injustice of life, these women will only passively accept the arrangement of fate, and silently endure the hardship of life. Director Hui gives more attention and sympathy to such women, and such films permeate her deep thinking on female destiny. However, Hui also creates female characters with a strong sense of rebellion, such as Bai Liu-Su in Love in a Fallen City (1984), May Sun in Summer Snow (1995), Gu Manzhen in Eighteen Springs (1997), and Xiao Hong in The Golden Era (2014), etc. In these films, women are no longer the submissive and cowardly appendages of traditional patriarchy. Instead, they become women who are courageous to fight for their rights.

Ann Hui
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