Set in Hong Kong during the early days of the pandemic, Lam Sum’s tender drama pictures a city haunted by economic and political uncertainty. Storefronts are plastered with foreclosure and bankruptcy notices, while talk of moving abroad hovers amid everyday conversations. Plagued by faulty equipment, the one-man sanitary service operated by world-weary Chak (played by Cantopop star Louis Cheung) is on the verge of breaking down. When asked by his ailing mother if God is telling him to give up the business, Chak self-deprecatingly describes himself as a speck of dust, so tiny that even the deities would not take notice.
Reluctantly hired as an extra pair of helping hands on his cleaning rounds, single-mom Candy (Angela Yuen) enters Chak’s life like a whirlwind of chaos. With her impossibly sunny attitude and colourful fashion sense, Candy could have come off as a manic pixie archetype; Yuen instead manages to lend an emotional weight to the character’s capricious quirkiness. A particularly devastating sequence finds the pair scrubbing the human-shaped stain left by a nameless soul who has died alone in squalor, another speck of dust forgotten by the outside world.
While the gentle dynamic between Candy and Chak emphasises the importance of compassion, the film is at times oddly moralistic towards the desperate decisions triggered by financial hardship. Candy’s shoplifting habit is treated as a reckless character trait to be reformed by Chak’s principles and generosity, rather than a question of necessity. In the end, it is somewhat naive to suggest that there is inherent virtue in enduring poverty with self-sacrificing nobility.
• The Narrow Road is released on 3 March in cinemas.