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'Little Big Master' is the kind of movie that you'll probably feel bad
for disliking even if it were terrible, but thankfully it never puts
its audience in that position. A fact-based portrait of a former
headmistress from an elite kindergarten who takes up the same role for
a meagre payout at a ramshackle village school with just five children
in its enrolment, it makes no attempt to conceal the fact that it
intends to tug at your heartstrings but by staying true to its
subject as well as that of the real-life characters it aims to portray,
there is absolutely no need for anyone to find an excuse to love it.
Playing the titular role of Madam Lilian Lui Wai-hung is Miriam Yeung,
who gives one of her most down-to-earth and honest performances ever.
That is evident right from the get-go, where in the opening scenes,
Yeung effortlessly establishes her character as a passionate educator
who resigns after the board of the prestigious pre-school she is at
disagrees with her dressing down of a parent obsessed with grades. A
few months of doing nothing in particular later, Hung chances across a
news report on the predicament facing Yuen Tin Kindergarten, which is
facing imminent closure by the village council at the end of its
current school term if its numbers fall below the critical minimum of
five when one of its students graduates.
After making a trip to visit the requisitely and this in case,
genuinely adorable kids, Hung agrees to accept a HK$4,500 salary for
being the school's headmistress cum janitor cum groundskeeper. The
local road sweeper makes it a point every day to say loudly how futile
her efforts are. Ditto the rest of the villagers, some of whom have
begun accepting bets based on how long they think she will last. And
yet Hung doesn't waver in her belief that each child deserves a good
education, so she takes it upon herself to ensure not just that the
grounds and the classrooms are clean and conducive but also that every
one of her students shows up daily for lessons.
Tempting though it may be to O.D. his audience with scenes of Hung and
her irresistibly and irrepressibly cute quintet of muppets, director
Adrian Kwan doesn't sugar-coat the realities which his story derives
from. Indeed, Kwan and his co-writer Hannah Cheung take pains to
highlight the working-class backgrounds of each of the tots Siu- suet
(Ho Yuen-ying)'s father, played by veteran actor Richard Ng, is a
single parent working as a scrap metal collector who is lucky to scrape
enough each day to put food on the table for that day itself; Ka-ka (Fu
Shun-ying) lost both her parents to a car accident one stormy day and
is now cared for by her aunt; Chu- chu (Keira Wang) is afraid to come
to school on days when her disabled dad (Philip Keung) loses his temper
at scheming land developers harassing him to sign his current house
away; and sisters Kitty Fathima (Zaha Fathima) and Jennie (Nayab Khan)
have to help their mother in the kitchen where their father works too.
As each child takes turns to skip school, Hung pays them a house visit
to convince their parents of the importance of a proper education.
There is an important lesson here about the impact that a good educator
can make, and Kwan emphasises that point by contrasting Hung's attitude
with that of her former CEO's (Sammy Leung), whose chief aim is to
capitalise on a pressure-cooker system to earn money from 'kiasu'
parents. But Kwan is also careful not to sanctify his subject, hence
the attention on developing a subplot related to Hung's marriage with
designer Tung (Louis Koo) though she promises initially that they
would go on a tour around the world after his contract ends, she fails
to tell him when she makes up her mind to stay on teaching at the
kindergarten by organising an enrolment drive to keep the numbers
going. Yeung's scenes with Koo add a refreshing dimension to her story,
depicting a touching example of an ideal marriage built on trust,
encouragement and mutual support.
That Yeung manages a modest chemistry with Koo should come as no
surprise, since it is just months before that the pair were lovers in
'Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2'. What is quite amazing is the genuine
rapport that Yeung shares with her much, much younger co- stars. Their
casting from amongst 400 hopefuls who auditioned is spot-on; in
particular, the emotional finale set on the very last day of the school
term demonstrates how natural the kids are, and we guarantee that only
a heartless monster will not be moved eventually. That credit is also
Kwan's as well as his producer Benny Chan's (yes, the Benny Chan of
'The White Storm' and 'Shaolin'), who manage to coax such unaffected
and even infectious performances from their first-time actresses.
Sure there are deliberate heart-rending moments, but by telling her
story as it is and never being emotionally manipulative about it, Kwan
dubbed the 'Gospel Director' for his feel-good Christian films
'Sometimes, Miracles Do Happen', 'Life is a Miracle' and 'If U Care
...' does a fittingly elegant tribute to his film's real-life hero.
There is no place for cynicism or for that matter melodrama here;
rather, this social-based drama that illuminates a cause worth fighting
for is moving, affecting and inspirational in its own right. It's a
little story of one teacher and five kids all right, but a big one
about change, conviction, and making a positive difference.
Tags for Little Big Master Full Movie
, Miriam Chin Wah Yeung
, Richard Ng
, Yuen Yee Ng
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