Wah Chuen’s chronicle is somewhat like the flipside of a James Clavell
novel. The adopted son of “Tanka” boat
people, Bo would become the first Chinese Taipan of the British Imperial East
India Company—sort of. Issues of
identity will hound the Horatio Alger character throughout Yim Ho’s “based on a
true story” Floating City (trailer here), which releases
on DVD and BluRay today from Well Go USA.
of Hong Kong’s hardscrabble harbor community have become iconic, but they always
represented the bottom rung of the Crown Colony’s social ladder. As a mixed race baby adopted by a Tanka
family, Bo was the lowest of the low.
His mother was ethnic Chinese.
His father was not. At the time,
Bo’s adoptive parents projected the need for another son to work with his
father. However, his parents proved to
be more fertile than the early 1960’s economy.
As a result, several of Bo’s younger siblings are sent to a Christian
orphanage while the family struggles to right itself.
path to success will not be a straight uphill climb. He will drop out of elementary school several
times, when already a young man of working age.
His fortunes will turn when the East India Company hires him as an office
boy. Yet, even then it will take years
for his virtue to be rewarded, as he labors under Dick Callahan, a ridiculously
caricatured lout, who oozes racism from every sweaty pore. Nonetheless, Bo will eventually catch the eye
of the last British Taipan and earn the confidence of Fion Hwang, a
mover-and-shaker who will tutor him in the particulars of Hong Kong power
politics. It all leads to feelings of
increasing inadequacy for his shy Tanka wife Tai, especially the part about the
the future Taipan, Aaron Kwok does not look the least little bit British, let
alone a full half, despite the bizarre red tinting applied to his hair. Regardless, this just might be the role of
career. Frankly, many who closely follow
Asian cinema might be surprised the Cantopop star had it in him. Even though he is stuck rhetorically asking “who
am I?” far too often, he gives a slow burning, fully dimensional performance as
the driven outsider of outsiders. Kwok
and Yim walk quite the fine line, never allowing Bo to sellout his
self-respect, yet maintaining a distinctly flexible approach to his corporate
Kwok, Floating’s ensemble is a mixed
bag, leaning more towards the positive side of the ledger. Both Josie Ho and Nina Paw are quite touching
as Bo’s younger and older adoptive mother, respectively. Annie Liu is also a smart, luminous presence
as Hwang, but you have to wonder what kind of expat dive bar they go to in
order to recruit western actors like this.
Egads, can’t any of them pull off a simple line reading?
the course of the film, Floating anti-British
biases get a bit tiresome, but its treatment of Christianity is considerably
more nuanced. In fact, Yim and co-writer
Marco Pong clearly suggest it greatly contributes to the perseverance of Bo’s
Ultimately, comparisons to Clavell are rather apt,
considering Floating’s large cast of
characters and decades-spanning narrative.
It has its flaws, but Kwok is a far more memorable Taipan than Bryan
Brown or Pierce Brosnan (at least the former had Joan Chen’s support). Many cineastes will forgive the clunky bits,
taking satisfaction from HK New Wave veteran Yim’s return to ambitious, large
scale filmmaking. Worth checking out as
a rags-to-riches tale with considerable local color, Floating City is now available for home viewing options from Well
Labels: Aaron Kwok, DVD, Hong Kong Cinema, Yim Ho