4 December 2006 | gmwhite
Slice of Hong Kong social realism
Cageman might have been better titled Cagepeople, because it is all about the occupants of a men's hostel in Hong Kong, who do indeed live in cages - not all the time, of course, but they sleep and keep their belongings inside them. The film doesn't concentrate on one particular occupant, but shares its time evenly between 7-11, a ninety-nine year old who sells all kinds of goods to his fellows from inside his cage, which he hasn't left in twenty years. He also has an assistant, nicknamed Sissy. Other tenants include a tinker, a very short fellow called 'Monkey face', who also owns a monkey, a cook, a perpetually drunk Taoist, and Mao, a young newcomer, recently released from prison. The owner of the hostel is Fatty, who has a retarded son to help him run the place. Almost the entire film takes place within the hostel, and there is barely a female to be seen.
The motivating incident of the film is the announcement that the block in which the hostel is located is to be demolished by its owners, to make for a development. Issues of relocation and compensation arise among the tenants, and cause divisions. Two politicians also arrive on the scene, and compete in shaking hands for photos and making promises, though their own motives will not appear until later. The occasional presence of TV crews only complicates the situation. Plenty of social issues appear as the film goes on: the treatment of the poor, the disabled, and the addicted in Hong Kong, and the gap between the rich and the poor. Politicians, it seems, are the same everywhere. While offering no solutions (which can't be expected of a film), the movie nevertheless portrays humanely and sympathetically the underbelly of Hong Kong.
In a character-driven film such as this, acting is of prime importance. I had no trouble believing in any of these people - they looked and sounded like the roles they were playing, so that they quickly become real people, caught in a real situation, largely at the mercy of forces much stronger than themselves.
There is also an amount of humour in the film, as one would expect with such a range of characters. Of particular note is a discussion regarding the difference between a beggar and a homeless person. There is plenty of realistic dialogue, the kind one would expect to hear uttered by down-and-outs in the absence of females, and this seems to have earned the film a category III rating (which I thought only applied to sex and violence).
This film is quite a change of pace from the typical Hong Kong fare. It would appeal more to those interested in socially-aware movies rather than escapist entertainment. At 145 minutes, it is also quite long, though it doesn't drag. There is enough lively dialogue and intrigue to maintain interest.