Director – Lam Ting-hin – 2015 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 25m
A cricket-obsessed Chinese-Indian, Muslim boy and a Chinese music student get to know each other after being put on neighbouring desks in class – FREE TO VIEW online in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th
Here’s a Hong Kong movie with a difference. It’s about two very different families with one thing in common: both have a boy at school That’s not the difference. The difference is that one of the families – the one with which the film starts – is Indian Muslim, which isn’t something you see represented in that territory’s cinema very often. Sent out by his mum to get Soy Sauce from the shop, he can’t resist taking his beloved cricket bat with him and joining his mates for a game. (I can’t remember the last time I saw cricket in a Hong Kong movie, if ever.)
Instructed by his teacher to introduce himself to his new classmates, he calls himself a Muslim who loves to play cricket. The class wag promptly pipes up, “Wow! Is he a terrorist?” He’s placed on the desk next to quiet, smaller than class average kid Kwan Tze Kit. Later in PE, when others pick on Khan as he struggles to keep up with his classmates running circuits round a small playground perimeter, Ali encourages him. And when Khan watches Ali practice bowling, Ali ropes him into to practice and teaches him the basics of overarm bowling.
Many of the sporting sequences are underscored by striking solo piano music on the score which links to Kwan’s background. At home, his mother constantly exhorts him to study for his upcoming piano exam, instilling in him the very Chinese idea that if he can get good qualifications, he’ll get on in life. She manages to squeeze all the pleasure out of such things, telling the boy off for listening to a CD of piano music when he should be “studying”.
On a later occasion, Kwan gets told off for missing a music lesson (on which he’d worked out he knew what was being taught well enough to miss) to bunk off and play cricket with Khan and his friends. And when, the next day, the teacher asks where Ali is, it’s Khan who is able to tell her that he’s at the cricket selection day.
In short, this is a diptych of two succinct character studies of boys in two very different ethnic groups, one familiar to Hong Kong cinema audiences and the other much less so. And as such it’s both endearing and engaging. It’s a short showing a great deal of promise in its director: hopefully this is not the last we’ll hear of Lam Ting-hin.
Ali And Me is FREE TO VIEW online in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th.