Art imitates life in a new Chinese film focusing on the struggles of dementia. Hong Kong director Law Yui-fai’s first feature-length film, “Happiness,” focuses on a rebellious youth and an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Although some movie-goers might consider the subject matter too difficult to watch, the film has already received positive reviews from both critics and the general public. Audiences are noting that the film feels fresh and relevant, especially compared to popular blockbusters that rely on heavy special effects and celebrity stars.
The film highlights the relationship between Ah Yo, a young man, and his mother Fen Yi. Ah Yo is left to grapple with his mother’s death after she passes away from Alzheimer’s. Director Law Yui-fai states that his film’s central message is about communication — specifically, the fact open communication about the disease is necessary for sufferers and their families.
For Law, the message of his film is very personal: his own mother also suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition, the actress playing Fen Yi drew from her own experiences, as her own mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at a similarly young age to that of her character.
Although the film hovers between the realms of commercial and art house, Law feels the movie has widespread appeal. Big budget movies may be popular for younger audiences, but the movie market needs a variety of choices in order to survive as an art form. And given the fact that one in three seniors passes away while suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia, the story is highly relatable for many people.
The visibility of diseases in the media, especially those associated with aging, is still in need of improvement, but films like “Happiness” can help start conversations between family members. There have been other films in recent years that aim to highlight some of the same issues, and the film has been described as an outstanding piece that “pulls back the curtain on aging society in which it’s becoming harder for elderly people … to live out their remaining years with dignity.”