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The Sunny Side of the Street offers nuanced look into the lives of refugees in Hong Kong

refugees
Yat (Anthony Wong) and Hassan (Sahal Zaman) share something in common in The Sunny Side of the Street.

For decades, waves of refugees have sought asylum in Hong Kong. They came after the Chinese Civil War to escape Communism under Mao Zedong. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, many more arrived from Vietnam. In recent years, significant numbers of refugees have come from Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Many of them hope to move on to western countries, viewing Hong Kong as a transit point.

On Friday (February 16), LNY Splash, LunarFest Vancouver, and VIFF will present a feature film that puts human faces on this situation. Moreover, The Sunny Side of the Street revolves around refugees to Hong Kong from different eras.

One of the central characters is a Pakistani boy. Hassan (Sahal Zaman), and his parents dream of gaining permission to move to Canada. However, Hassan’s father, Ahmed (Inderjeet Singh), puts this in jeopardy by getting into a confrontation with a jaded taxi driver named Yat (Anthony Wong),

Decades earlier, Yat had left his son in China when he swam across a river to reach Hong Kong. His newly married son Hong (Endy Chow) is now a police officer. And he remains deeply troubled by his father’s decision to abandon him.

Malaysian director and writer Kok Rui Lau won Golden Horse Awards in 2022 as Best New Director and for Best Original Screenplay for The Sunny Side of the Street. It’s easy to see why, given the multi-layered storyline and nuanced characters.

Watch the trailer for The Sunny Side of the Street.

Refugees defy stereotypes

Hassan’s father was a lawyer in Pakistan and clings to modern ideas about truth and justice. His wife, Fatimah (Kiranjeet Gill), assertively challenges Ahmed when she feels he’s jeopardizing the family’s future.

Meanwhile, a Muslim wedding involving refugees from Pakistan and Indonesia is authentic in the eyes of Allah. But as this film reveals, it’s not legal in the eyes of Hong Kong authorities. And filial piety, a cornerstone of Confucianism, is severely strained in the relationship between Yat and Hong.

Wong captured a Golden Horse Award for best actor for his gritty performance in The Sunny Side of the Street. He masterfully conveys Yat’s unpredictability—here’s a character who all too often acts on impulse, sometimes to his own detriment.

The clever and perceptive Hassan, on the other time, is amazingly mature for his age. This boy sees situations for the way they are rather than how other characters might like them to be viewed.

Despite the movie’s title, it’s not always sunny in this intercultural tale that includes dialogue in Cantonese and Urdu and subtitles in English and Traditional Chinese. But it will still warm the hearts of those keen to see a side of Hong Kong that’s rarely shown on the big screen.

LNY Splash, LunarFest Vancouver, and VIFF will present The Sunny Side of the Street at the VIFF Centre at 2 p.m. on Friday (February 16). For tickets and more information, visit the VIFF website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.