Elisa’s Day (遺愛, Alan Fung Chi-hang, 2021)

The legacy of abandonment visits itself on a trio of displaced Hong Kongers in Alan Fung Chi-hang’s melancholy crime drama, Elisa’s Day (遺愛). Set over 20 years from the Handover to the contemporary era, Fung draws inspiration from a real life crime while casting his ambivalent policeman, himself an orphan, as an ironic hero whose single act of compassion ends in a tragedy for which he feels he may not even have the right to atone. 

Fung begins, however, in the present day as Inspector Fai (Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei) prepares to collect his daughter who is shortly to be released from prison. Flashing back, we’re introduced to Daisy (Carol To Hei-Ling), a pale and distant young woman picked up for suspected drug trafficking while momentarily captivated by a familiar song and carrying a bunch of roses. From there we head further back, all the way to 1996 when 15-year-old Elisa (Hanna Chan Hon-Na) discovers she is pregnant by her bad boy boyfriend Man-Wai (Tony Wu Tsz-Tung). Each abandoned by their parents, the pair decide to run away together and find solace in a family of three, but as expected economic impossibility disrupts their search for happiness. Man-Wai joins the triads and eventually agrees to become a hitman, temporarily separated from Elisa and their daughter while lying low in Thailand. A then Sergeant Fai remains hot on his trail, keeping tabs on Elisa who unwittingly brings her young baby to the cinema where his adoptive mother Auntie Bo (Anna Ng Yuen-Yee) runs the box office, the pair of them becoming surrogate parents to the lonely little girl while Elisa is forced to turn to sex work when Man-Wai’s triad bosses fail to uphold their end of the bargain. 

“Everyone’s gone leaving only me behind” Elisa laments, learning that her estranged mother plans to move to the UK with her second family abandoning her once again in another, more complete sense. Trapped behind in a rundown area of the city, she finds herself caught between conflicting realities. Man-Wai pledges to stay with her forever but is soon gone eventually returning with promises of taking her to Thailand their dream of a better life symbolised by the red roses he brings with him that he claims reminded him of her. Man-Wai meanwhile is constantly told by his triad bosses that the future lies in Mainland China, a place he is originally so reluctant to travel that that he thinks killing is a better option only to later submit himself once again leaving Elisa alone in Hong Kong with no money and only a dwindling hope of ever achieving the familial bliss she longed for when she decided to run away with Man-Wai. 

For his part, Fai is also an orphan though his fate his was different in that he was found by Auntie Bo who gave him a loving home. Even so he has his share of guilt, feeling responsible for Auntie Bo’s spinsterhood fearing that she never married or had children of her own because taking him in made it impossible in the more conservative Hong Kong of 70s and 80s. Ironically enough they become a surrogate family for the infant Daisy, but it’s Fai’s sense of empathy that eventually provokes tragedy in his decision not to arrest Man-Wai on his return seeing how much he loves his family and wanting to give him a chance to put things right rather than take a little girl’s father away from her. Unable to forgive himself, he abandons his responsibilities only to be reminded of them later finally ending the cycle by being willing to accept the responsibility which has been left for him. 

Transitioning through the Hong Kong Handover, Fung evokes a sense of continual displacement, Elisa’s life destroyed firstly through abandonment and then through conflicted desires torn between a potential Thailand paradise and Mainland reality while longing only for a stable home(land). Daisy is offered something similar, her drug trafficker boyfriend to promising to take her to Thailand on their next run, the drugs ironically concealed in a bouquet of red roses just like those her father once brought for her mother. Her only salvation lies in the arms of Fai, a literal authority figure, reassuming his paternal responsibility and thereby restoring a sense of familial and political stability. Told in fragmentary, non-linear fashion, Fung’s melancholy tale of the legacies of abandonment and an innocent love eroded by economic and social realities eventually finds hope in familial repair and the remaking of a home in self-defined family.


Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Breakout Brothers (逃獄兄弟, Mak Ho-Pong, 2020)

“I’m treating this as a vacation” says affable triad Chan (Louis Cheung Kai-Chung) of his three month prison term, after all it’s rent free and three meals a day who could say no to that in the difficult economic environment of pre-handover Hong Kong? Nevertheless, it’s hardly a vacation if you can’t cut it short and Chan, along with two buddies, will eventually find reasons to want to leave. Mak Ho-pong’s genial prison break comedy Breakout Brothers (逃獄兄弟) takes occasional subversive potshots against an increasingly corrupt social order but eventually discovers that you can’t escape social responsibility while the real reward is indeed the friends you make along the way. 

That is at least the conclusion that newbie prisoner Mak (Adam Pak Tin-Nam) comes to after being pulled into an escape plan formulated by petty gangster Chan who decides to make a break for it after learning that his dear mother has been taken ill and needs a kidney transplant which only he can give her. Thinking of his prison time as a vacation from the pressures of everyday life, Chan has been a low maintenance prisoner and therefore assumed the warden would agree to a temporary release to let him help his mum, but Warden Tang (Kenny Wong Tak-Ban) who has already served a “life sentence” of 30 years in post has recently been promised a promotion and doesn’t want anything to mess it up like a prisoner turning fugitive while on hospital leave. Spotting a workman disappearing from a storeroom and emerging Mario-style from a manhole on the other side of the fence Chan gets an idea and enlists Mak, an architect inside after being framed for taking bribes, to help him figure out the logistics, and Big Roller (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man), leader of the prison’s second biggest gang, for access and protection. 

The guys’ predicaments are perhaps embodiments of the age, Chan wanting out for reasons of filial piety while for Big Roller it’s in a sense the reverse in learning the daughter he was told had died is in fact alive and about to be married. Mak meanwhile wants out because he’s a sitting duck inside, the shady construction CEO who framed him for signing off on lax safety procedures which led to a fire in a prominent building having enlisted the services of rival gangster Scar (Justin Cheung Kin-Seng) to intimidate him into dropping his appeal. Hints of institutional corruption extend to the colonial prison system with guards quite clearly intimidated by prisoners and often turning a blind eye to cellblock violence while it’s also implied that Warden Tang has in a sense facilitated the rise of Scar at the expense of Big Roller as a means of maintaining order. He, like the colonial authorities, will soon be on his way but anticipating his own freedom is keen there be no trouble which is why he refuses Chan’s compassionate leave and extends little sympathy to new boy Mak. 

In any case, the real draw is the bumbling crime caper of the guys planning a heist-style escape which is, in the history of prison escapes, not an especially elaborate one. The prison is not exactly max security, and as they plan to escape during the celebrations for the Mid-August festival none of them are anticipating much difficulty in making it to the outside though as expected not quite everything goes to plan. Mak, meanwhile, eventually takes Big Roller’s advice and decides to stay inside to clear his name properly while the gang ensure his safety rather than try to live as a guilty fugitive and possibly be caught only to end up with more time. The other two have more pressing temporary goals and have not perhaps considered what to do after they’ve completed them, believing only that their lives are untenable if they cannot fulfil their duties as father and son respectively. 

Perhaps for this reason, the Mainland-friendly conclusion has each of the men recommitting themselves to paying their debts to society, Chan even insisting that he’s going to use his time wisely to improve his education in order to be a better husband and son while Big Roller promises to become a carpenter for real. Mak gets a partial vindication in that the shady CEO is finally forced to face justice while also realising that his slightly elitist, individualist stance has been mistaken thanks to the warm and genuine relationships he’s discovered inside. More comedy crime caper than tense prison break thriller, Breakout Brothers remains true to its name in prioritising the unconventional friendship that develops between the trio as they bond in a shared sense of existential rather than literal imprisonment. 


Breakout Brothers screened as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)