A Portrait Of Ann Hui | 5 Intriguing Facts

Photo of Jie Lin Foo
21 December 2016

In a career spanning more than thirty years, filmmaker Ann Hui has directed a series of classics and critically-acclaimed works that explore a myriad of themes. She explores themes ranging from weighty topics that examine gender, political, cultural and societal issues, to lighthearted and entertaining subjects narrating stories of romance, relationships and horror-comedies.

It is fascinating to delve in deeper and discover more about the person behind these masterpieces. What are Ann Hui’s reasons for exploring weighty, profound themes of nationalism and marginalization in her movies? Which work of hers is actually a fictionalized autobiographical film mirroring her life events? Throughout her career, did she achieve a level of commercial success similar to the acclaim her works garnered? To answer these questions (and more), here are five intriguing facts you should know about Ann Hui:

Her Interest in Themes of Marginalization, Nationalism and Ethnocentrism

Ann Hui was born in Liaoning, a province in Northeastern China, to a Chinese father and Japanese mother. Her family sought to escape the tumult and disarray during the revolution in China, and arrived in Hong Kong when Ann Hui was five. Ann Hui’s personal background may serve as a plausible reason for her interest in exploring and portraying marginalized people within the society, and her antipathy for ethnocentrism and nationalism in her work. The themes of her films often center on these aspects, and highlight the challenges faced by individuals living in an environment vastly different from their home country after forced relocation.

A Versatile Director: Exploring a Diverse Range of Genres

Ann Hui’s films may be most famous for centering on themes that explore significant gender, societal, political and cultural issues. Her directorial capabilities, however, are not limited to narrating only weighty and profound topics. Her versatility as a director can be seen from the array of genres that her dramas and films fall under. Some of these films center on topics of a more entertaining and emotional nature, relating stories about middle-age romances and relationships that transcend past generational boundaries (July Rhapsody), Qing Dynasty martial arts epics (The Romance of Book and Sword) and amusing slapstick horror-comedies (Visible Secret).

Mirroring Her Life Through “Song of the Exile”

Indisputably, Ann Hui’s most personal film to date is “Song of the Exile”, in which a mother-daughter relationship, as well as social, cultural and identity issues are explored. It is in fact a semi-autobiographical film, with incidents and scenarios within the movie mirroring the events of Ann Hui’s life. Similar to the protagonist, Hueyin, Ann Hui’s mother is also of Japanese descent. The movie starts off by depicting Hueyin returning from London to Hong Kong after failing to clinch a job with BBC. This setting is similar to Hui’s personal experience of heading back to Hong Kong to start off her career after her education at London Film School.

Four Time Winner: Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director

Unlike other female directors of her generation, Ann Hui has enjoyed a successful career spanning over thirty years, with a series of works under her belt that have garnered much attention. She remains the only director to have been awarded the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director four times, with her most recent award received in 2012 for “A Simple Life”.

Critical Success and Commercial Failure

With the level of critical success that Ann Hui has achieved, it may appear as a contradiction that she has not managed to achieve a similar level of success commercially. Two of her cinematic films released in 1991, Zodiac Killers and American Grandson, failed to gain popularity among mainstream audiences and incurred losses for her investors. This was not quite the case in the early days of her career. Garnering investment was not much of an issue for Ann Hui then as one of her earliest films, “Boat People (1981)”, won a string of awards and nominations at the prestigious Hong Kong Film Awards, and earned about HK$ 14 million at the box office.

However, despite receiving a steady stream of awards and critical recognition in later years, only a handful of her movies have proved to be commercial successes. Regardless, Ann Hui is undeniably a filmmaker with a legacy, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with within the industry today.