Echoes of the Rainbow -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- It's a small miracle that Alex Law's modest production about a shoemaker's son growing up in late '60s Hong Kong received rapturous response from young viewers who handed it the Crystal Bear at Berlinale's Generation Kplus. In spirit, a throwback to '50s Cantonese tearjerking domestic drama minus the Leftist social slant, "Echoes of the Rainbow" wears its nostalgic heart on its sleeve, expressing an innocent worldview devoid of self-parody, thus striking a chord with children.

The film's post-Berlin buzz helped revoke a government decree to demolish the row of heritage buildings that served as principle location. All this builds up to great publicity for local boxoffice and an illustrious kidfest career.

The film is narrated by 8-year-old Big Ears (Buzz Chung), who grows up on Wing Lee Street in Sheung Wan, where his father (Simon Yam) runs a shoe shop on one end while his uncle owns a hair salon at the opposite end. Big Ears is a cry baby and kleptomaniac with eclectic taste who is always compared unfavorably with his teenage brother Desmond (Aarif Lee), a model student and jock sporting a Bruce Lee haircut.

The narrative alternates between Big Ears' carefree romps and Desmond's infatuation with classmate Flora, making the tone sway between cute and cheesy. When Desmond's puppy love gets nipped in the bud, his academic and sports performance begins to slide. That's the least of his worries though, as the worst is yet to come, beginning with a vicious typhoon that rips their makeshift shop into shreds. From this point on, the story makes a headlong plunge into soppy melodrama; devising such corny scenarios and dialogue that one starts to doubt the filmmaker's sincerity.

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Fortunately, the film always maintains a degree of playfulness and naivete by filtering everything through Big Ear's eyes. Chung carries the film effortlessly, stealing the show from Lee, whose bland acting doesn't help to enliven his goody-two-shoes character. Yam brings just the right amount of tenderness to the role of sturdy working-class breadwinner. As the resourceful and sharp-tongued mother, Sandra seems to rehash her voice role of Mrs. Mak in the "McDull" animation series.

Soaking up the atmosphere of Wing Lee Street's '50s Hong Kong architecture (the last of its kind in the city), cinematography is dreamily lush, softened by frequent dissolves and emotive close-ups. Some images exude magic and poetry, like the typhoon that hurls a gust of shoes into the air. The music, which tirelessly replays '60s standards like the Monkees interspersed with sugary folk melody, works wonders for fiftysomethings and 5-year-olds but not those in between.

There is some reflection of the social milieu, such as the prevalence of corruption, as seen in a British policeman's demand for bribes, but major socio-political upheavals like the 1967 pro-China riots don't even get a mention. Poverty is romanticized in the mother's proverbial wisdom about life being "half difficult, half wonderful."

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival
Production: Sky Cosmos Development Limited
Sales: Mei Ah Entertainment
Cast: Buzz Chung, Aarif Lee, Simon Yam, Sandra Ng, Evelyn Choi, Paul Chiang
Director-screenwriter: Alex Law
Producer: Mabel Cheung
Executive producers: John Sham, Li Kuo Shing, Liu Rong
Director of Photography: Charlie Lam
Production designer: Alfred Yau
Music: Henry Lai
Editor: Kong Chi Leung, Chan Chi Wai
No rating, 117 minutes
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