Little Cheung (Yiu Yuet-Ming) has learned that money and existence are inextricably connected to each other: “I’ve known from an early age, money is a dream. It’s a fantasy. It’s also a future.” His doting grandmother, a former Chinese opera actress, spends her afternoons gambling at a mah jong parlor. His grandmother’s affable and religious Filipina maid comically reminds everyone that she is entitled to overtime payment for working on Sundays. Even his namesake, a national celebrity and his grandmother’s former acquaintance, Brother Cheung, appears on television for public fund raising activities. It is a lesson that is not lost on Little Cheung as he delivers food on his bicycle for his father’s restaurant, using his charm and boyish good looks to entice customers into leaving him bigger tips. Nevertheless, the purpose for accumulating money is one that seems alien to the enterprising boy, as he squanders his earnings to secure a special ordered Tamagotchi electronic toy pet. But Little Cheung has another, far more serious goal: to reunite with his older brother who was disowned by his father after falling into delinquency. One day, an immigrant little girl from mainland China named Fan (Mak Wai-Fan) inquires about a posted delivery job at the family restaurant and is immediately chased away by Little Cheung’s father. The episode captures Little Cheung’s attention, and he decides to follow Fan and offer her a job assisting him in his deliveries for a share of the collected tip money. It is a mutually beneficial association that leads to a close friendship between the two children. However, Little Cheung’s attempts to find his brother prove to have serious consequences as his search causes disharmony in the family and indirectly threatens to expose the illegal residency of Fan’s family.
Little Cheung is a poignant, lyrical, and compassionate film on materialism and loss of innocence. By illustrating the stark contrast between the privileged, insular life of Little Cheung and the meager existence of Fan (who is often shown in exterior shots), Fruit Chan illustrates the inherent social dichotomy between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese immigrants during the transitional period prior to the handover of Hong Kong. As in Chan’s subsequent film, Durian Durian, the harsh life and eventual fate of young Fan and her family serve to underscore the economic and social disparity that tend to divide, rather than unite, the two regions: the image of children, presumably mainland Chinese immigrants, being removed from school seems incongruous with the latter image of Hong Kong children learning the official Chinese salute. But in the end, Fan’s naive declaration that “Hong Kong is ours”, like the promise of wealth and a brighter future in post-handover Hong Kong, proves to be an unattainable dream.
© Acquarello 2001. All rights reserved.