Stand Up Story movie review: Ben Yuen, Ng Siu-hin shine as father and son in gentle, bittersweet comedy drama about surviving hardship

3.5/5 stars

A young man learns to savour the moments he shares with his intellectually disabled father while navigating an unlikely career path to become a stand-up comedian in Stand Up Story, a warm and gentle tale of surviving hardship.

One of the first projects to be greenlit by the partnership launched by Emperor Motion Pictures and One Cool Group in 2020 to boost the ailing Hong Kong film industry amid the Covid-19 outbreak, this film certainly has the life-affirming messages and feel-good elements to fly the flag for the initiative.

Ng Siu-hin ( In Your Dreams) is Manny, who has lived contentedly with his single father Wah (Ben Yuen Fu-wah, Suk Suk), a good-natured and hard-working man who has a mild intellectual disability, after his mainland Chinese mother (Joman Chiang Cho-man) left the family for good when he was seven.

During his teenage years, Manny is often embarrassed by the fact Wah works as a janitor in the secondary school he goes to. But, for the audience at least, it is apparent that the two care deeply for each other despite never explicitly spelling it out.

After Manny graduates from university during the pandemic, he is stuck doing food deliveries for a living – a development his father naturally takes issue with. Wah’s worry deepens when his son decides to make it as a professional comedian under the influence of schoolmate and potential love interest May (Ng Wing-sze).

Ng Wing-sze as May in a still from “Stand Up Story”.

Even at just 104 minutes, Stand Up Story may feel a little uneventful for viewers not ready to completely immerse themselves in the everyday interactions between Manny and Wah, which take up most of the film despite its purported interest in comedy writing.

For everyone else, however, it is hard not to be won over by the consistently heartfelt performances of Yuen and Ng as the bickering father and son. Director Au Cheuk-man (The Gigolo) and his two co-writers, Lou Shiu-wa and Mandy Ng Hoi-man, deserve much credit for steering clear of sheer sentimentality.

While the story’s key message – that tragedy in life can just as well become a source of laughter – may be a little on the nose, Au’s bittersweet film is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the increasingly long line of socially conscious human dramas to have come out of Hong Kong cinema in recent years.

Ben Yuen as Wah (left) and Ng Siu-hin as Manny in a still from “Stand Up Story”.

Just don’t expect Stand Up Story to make a lot of money at the box office – in much the same way that you don’t ask the stand-up comedian if he’s making enough for a living.

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