The Sunny Side of the Street <白日青春> marks the directorial debut of Malaysian-born (Muar, Johor) and Hong Kong-based Lau Kok-Rui. The drama made a splash at the 59th Golden Horse Awards in 2022 with four wins and 41st Hong Kong Film Awards earlier this year with Sahal Zaman taking home the Best New Performer award.
Zaman plays Hassan (Sahal Zaman), a 10-year-old Pakistani boy who is born in Hong Kong and their parents (Inderjeet Singh’s Ahmed and Kiranjeet Gill’s Fatimah) are refugees. His father, who used to be a lawyer and even had his own firm back in Pakistan, keeps making promises they will move to Canada one day. But it was more of an empty promise, where Fatimah and their son have grown impatient. Ahmed struggles to make a living and without an identity card, he can’t be employed legally.
One night after Ahmed borrows a van from Ali (Sohail Saghir), who owns a small convenience store, he got into an accident when Yat’s (Anthony Wong) taxi collided with the van. A uniformed police officer happens to witness the scene at the time but Yat gets to walk away scot-free. Ahmed, on the other hand, is arrested, triggering a series of events that eventually leads to Yat and him encountering each other again. Only this time, Ahmed died in an unfortunate car accident.
Lau Kok-Rui, who also wrote the screenplay, does a great job exploring the minorities — in this case, the Pakistani refugees — living in Hong Kong. The story doesn’t hold back on how law enforcement (the part where Yat’s police-officer son’s (Endy Chow‘s Hong) colleague played by Fire Lee of 2017’s Husband Killers <女士復仇> abuses his authority comes to mind) and locals like Yat treated them with disdain. It’s painful to watch but that’s the cold, bitter truth that addresses the discrimination of the refugee situation in Hong Kong.
But even so, Rui manages to humanise his subject matter by making us care about these Pakistani refugees, particularly Ahmed and his family. They want to live in peace just like everyone else but luck and positive outcomes simply do not side with them. They remain stuck in limbo in Hong Kong, desperately looking to resettle in Canada. And yet, they have to make do with whatever is available even if they are forced to live in a hut. It’s hard not to sympathise with their never-ending plights, namely Ahmed’s struggle to provide for his family a better life and Hassan’s messy childhood life. The latter is especially true with him resorting to stealing (at one point, he steals a pair of goggles from Ali’s store since he is nearsighted and Ahmed can’t afford to get him a pair of prescribed eyeglasses).
Newcomer Sahal Zaman is a real find, a child prodigy of an actor who stands on his own even when acting alongside Hong Kong heavyweights like Anthony Wong. The second half of the movie, which sees Anthony Wong’s Yat wanting to make amends by taking care of Hassan’s welfare, leads to a father-son-like relationship. They share excellent on-screen chemistry and it helps that Wong delivers one of his best performances to date as Yat. He may have been a stubborn and irresponsible person who doesn’t own up to his mistakes (as in the case of him hitting Ahmed’s van in the first place). But as the movie goes on, he is reeling from the guilt that eats him inside out.
Not to mention his own past for not taking good care of his estranged son, who despised him. Earlier in the movie, Hong (Endy Chow delivers a solid supporting turn) isn’t really happy with his father showing up late for his wedding dinner. He hates his father’s attitude and can’t stand seeing him as a recurring alcoholic.
The Sunny Side of the Street <白日青春> is no doubt a triumph in its terrific acting showcase, with kudos also going to Inderjeet Singh and Kiranjeet Gill as Hassan’s parents. Apart from Lau Kok-Rui’s promising debut feature, Leung Ming-Kai’s atmospheric cinematography, particularly the nighttime moments in the Hong Kong streets and buildings deserves equal mention. Although the pace can be erratic in some parts, The Sunny Side of the Street <白日青春> remains one of the best Hong Kong dramas in recent years.