Herbal Tea

This is another unexpected film from director Herman Yau - a low budget romance with less drama than your morning breakfast of toast and coffee but it is surprisingly engaging simply due to its niceness. Nice isn’t necessarily a film characteristic that will attract many people – but this is a nice film populated with nice people in which nice things happen. It takes place in a slice of Hong Kong that could be mistaken for Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. It’s a place I think we would all like to live – full of mildly eccentric people in which every one looks out for each other and happy endings are taken for granted. Maybe that was its appeal for me. As they say a little niceness can go a long way.
The heart of this neighborhood is the herbal tea shop that May (the adorable Candy Lo) has been running since her parents died when she was fourteen. She has a numbers obsession – “my father was killed by a van going 73 k.p.h. and he was knocked back 6.3 meters” and an herbal tea remedy for anything you have from a hangover to erectile dysfunction. She also teaches Tai Chi classes and helps everyone with everything – a regular good neighbor Sam type. In her shop she has two helpers – Uncle Cai (Siu Ping-Lam) who gets all the orders mixed up but has been working there since the beginning of time and Lance (Patrick Tang) who breaks up with a different girl every week and dreams of moving to Japan to become a Sumo wrestler. Neighbors pop in constantly for tea and advice or just to spend time – Spencer Lam and the kid from “Three” (Li Ting-fung) being two of them. It’s very much like a Capra movie before the drama kicks in. Here it never does.
May has a fan crush on a minor actress named Linda (Li Li-Li – damn what were her parents thinking) and when she learns that a shoot is going on down the street with her in it – and directed by Simon Lui (who actually produced this film) – and starring Andy Lau (unseen - who of course dies in the movie) - she rushes down to get her autograph. It is there that she first sees stuntman Dan (Jordan Chan) as he gets smashed by a car – all for the movie of course. Later he pops into her shop when he discovers that she is renting an apartment – and after becoming her tenant they become friends. He dreams of breaking out of his stuntman status but after 12 years of doing this at the behest of his manager Hui Siu-hung he is beginning to wonder if it will ever happen – but he takes great pride in showing May clips of his stunts from various films – his favorite being “Hard Boiled” in which he gets shot and we only see his back – that’s the life of anonymous stuntmen though. He tells her that he is secretly going out with Linda but his lowly status forces them to downplay it – but over time the two of them slowly begin to realize how much they care about one another. Then his big break comes. Condor Hero!
That’s about all there is to this – a really small sliver of life movie without much drama or grittiness or really anything. The pleasures to be derived from the film come almost entirely from the very personable and likable performances from Candy and Jordan and the very natural low-key relationship that develops between them. The one scene in which they team up to fight the neighborhood bully (Lo Meng) is quite amusing and the only scene that feels a bit out of place as something actually happens! I have only gotten Candy in small doses in films but have always liked her and here she is a little kooky and very charming in a sort of Faye Wong/Chungking Express kind of way. The soundtrack also contains three songs that I assume are hers and they are quite good. I have never been a big fan of Jordan Chan and his star has certainly dropped since his Young and Dangerous days, but I thought he was quite good here – one of my favorite performances of his - so maybe getting older has seasoned him a bit in my eyes and made him seem less shallow to me. This is a modest little film that won’t push any of your cinematic buttons, but I’m glad I didn’t pass by it as I had planned to do.

My rating for this film: 6.0