`Health, Peace, Happiness' by Cecilia Lee


Honesty and spontaneity are often at a trade-off with form and structure. This is especially true in a documentary. There is a Chinese saying that goes `The boat will find a straight path out when it reaches the bridge point’. Sometimes, when you let nature take its course in shooting a documentary, how life unfolds (or `folds’ in this case) miraculously gives an unstructured documentary structure.

They should seriously change the title. Health, Peace and Happiness sounds like a self-improvement TV program or a book on spiritual awakening. I was prepared to be bored. But as I discovered, the title really did no justice to the powerful content of the documentary. The documentary left me with a image of a face, a very vivid one. (Cliché not doubt) That of cancer. It was not just a harrowing image of patient’s gaunt and ravaged face. It is the faithfully followed family story running beneath the images as well.
HPH chronologically follows 2 cancer patients who are warded literally next to each other, easily enough for a visual comparison. Both are reduced to skin and bones though one is a little more composed and optimistic than the other. The other one’s crew cut had reduced her to a genderless, formless body. We witness various angles of their bed-ridden lives. These unfold gradually in the documentary – the feeding, the occasional musical moments, the technical aspects of their treatments, the palliative officers’ takes on their lives and finally, the family’s outpourings.
Of particular significance was the depiction of the mother-son relationship. The son has not lived up to his mother’s expectations and has a mountain of debts to repay. Time is not on her side for she may not live to see her son redeem himself fully again. There was a scene in her bed in which despite gasping for breath, she still musters the impetus to reprimand her son for a little things, just like she would normally do. And the next moment, there is solitary head shot of her ingesting fluids from a tube, eyes seemingly transfixed on perhaps her visualisation of a ticking clock. The inevitable happens and on another random day after Christmas, the original hospital ward 2-shot becomes a lonely and skewed 1-shot of the remaining patient.

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