Birth, aging, sickness, death — and perhaps also taxes — are the inescapable realities of life.
While we are thrilled about birth, the Chinese would ritually become reluctant and aloof toward the latter stages of life.
Young director Wong Siu-Pong, who captured the lives of Hong Kong’s children from working class families in the award-winning 2013 documentary Fish Story, has risen to the challenge to explore the final stages of life — a Chinese taboo subject — in his latest production.
Wong’s new documentary, Snuggle, takes audiences to nursing homes, hospitals and even funeral homes.
Three years ago, when Wong was working as a volunteer in a hospital, he met a lot of elderly patients and their families.
He was inspired to share the stories of three families and their struggles against terminal illness.
“I first met Mo Yim through an art program. I liked her from the first day and I got to learn more about her personally,” Wong said.
“Later, I met Uncle Chung, a gentle and sweet gentleman who showed his profound love for his wife Mei. Uncle Pui is a more typical and a stubborn Chinese man who acts like a chatterbox and cracks jokes a lot. But it’s just the cover for his deep worries for his ailing wife.”
The young director witnessed the death of Uncle Chung and his wife, which took him by surprise since the events came all of a sudden.
“There were only two people working on production and cinematography, so sometimes I did the shots myself. I found it difficult at the beginning as I had to film funeral scenes and witness Mei’s passing. It took me a year or more to digest these events,” Wong said.
“In the meantime, I shared my thoughts with social workers, friends and the interviewees’ families.”
Mo Yim is terminally ill, yet she is very optimistic. Her only son, who was raised by a foster family, has learned of her sickness and decided to give his best to rekindle their bonds.
The story of Uncle Pui is also touching.
Pui’s only daughter has opted to stay single in order to take care of her ailing parents when she is not working.
“She was under a lot of pressure but she was willing to share her experiences with me. My job is to listen rather than offer suggestions,” Wong said.
Wong thinks Hong Kong lacks emotional empathy, where people often do not know how to offer help to others.
“I am hoping this documentary will stir people’s empathy and make their emotions flow, encouraging them to express their care for others.
Wong is thankful for the complete trust he enjoyed from the three families.
“Every shot we did we had excellent communication. None had been rejected,” Wong said.
“The greatest challenge in the making the movie actually came from myself. I am not their family and we have not known each other very long. Handling a heavy topic at my age is not easy.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 7.
Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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