Ken reviews: Echoes of the Rainbow

By Ken KwekMovies - 28 May 2010 11:30 AM | Updated 31 May 2010

Ken reviews: Echoes of the Rainbow

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Rating: 0.5 out of 5

There are films I enjoy but don’t admire, and films I admire but don’t enjoy. Then there are films that I simply hate with all my might.

Echoes of the Rainbow is such a film.

Veteran filmmaker Alex Law’s portrait of a poor shoemaker’s family purports to be an ode to 1960s Hong Kong, as well as a meditation on the cyclical nature of Fortune. It really is more of an ode to the Cantonese soap operas of the 1950s, and any meditation on Law’s part is expressed in woefully – perhaps deliberately – simplistic fashion.

The film is neatly divided into two halves. In the first half, life is hard but everyone is happy; in the second, life grows harder and everyone becomes miserable.

The happy half comprises a series of cute and unabashedly cheesy skits centering on the adventures of two brothers, eight-year-old Big Ears (Buzz Chung) and 16-year-old Desmond (Aarif Lee). Big Ears is a street-savvy rascal who, when he isn’t being punished for his poor grades, is usually out stealing useless ornaments as playthings, or boosting his meagre allowance by selling faked celebrity autographs.

By comparison, his older brother Desmond is the star pupil and jock of a Catholic school (where the British teachers, inexplicably, speak American). Desmond is a not only a brilliant student, he’s also the world’s most dutiful son and brother. He carries all the hopes of his humble, hardworking parents (Simon Yam and Sandra Ng) and his only flaw is that he has the personality of a digestive biscuit.

The family live in a cramped shophouse, next to an assortment of neighbours who are so loveable, it’s irrelevant that they all live in impoverished squalor.

Shooting through a sepia-tinted lens, Law draws out the wholly imaginary charms of working-class life. There are scenes of the family watching an old Bobo Fung movie, there’s sappy music by the Monkees and Gordon Lightfoot and reminders of now-defunct kids’ amusements such as fighting fish, trading cards and yo-yos.

Then, having established the unadulterated goodness and humble livelihoods of his main characters, Law, who also wrote the screenplay, throws a dung-heap of misfortune on them. 

Among other disasters, the director has a typhoon rip up the shoemaker’s shop, and he afflicts Desmond with leukaemia. I’m sure if it had been prudent for the adorable Big Ears to get struck by lightning or suffer ear cancer, Law would have had that too.

From the onset of the first disaster – that is, the typhoon – the movie dives headlong into the depths of melodramatic hell. The family slip further and further into destitution, and the corny humour of the first half of the movie is wrung into buckets of agonising tears.

The problem is that none of the characters’ tribulations arise from human faults – in the end their suffering is all due to poverty and plain bad luck – and as a result, there is nothing they can actively do to salvage their lives.

The audience are left similarly helpless. All they can do is cry along with the characters and hope death comes to them as painlessly as possible. As it happens, everyone at the preview I attended had his or her hanky out by the mid-point of the film’s insufferable 112 minutes.

So maybe director Law – or more likely his incredible, unwaveringly committed cast of actors – got something right.

Still, this reviewer’s stone-cold heart remained stubbornly unthawed.


About Ken Kwek

Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and Kidnapper (2010). Kidnapper premiered in Singapore in March and was released in Malaysia on May 13.