Well it was bound to happen. SARS was the biggest thing to come out of South East Asia last year with Hong Kong one of the hardest places hit. It is of little surprise then that we see a film from our favourite little cottage industry focussing on the nebulous disease.
As a result, we have City of SARS. City of SARS is basically made up of three different stories or parables told within the period of the worst of the SARS epidemic. And that really is the extent of the relationship between the individual stories. There is no chronology or congruous themes or moods – and it is this complete lack of synchronicity between the individual tales that just suggests to me this material is more appropriate on the small screen than the large.
The first story is something I’d expect out of a hospital drama. A doctor who sees his work as only a job up against an young idealistic nurse. The story writes itself with the usual conflicts between the self and community – selfishness and selflessness. In fact, the only thing that didn’t happen that would be expected is a budding romance but then I suppose they were on a tight schedule fitting three stories in the one 90 minute movie.
The second story is more of a touching romance in the face of adversity. Girl gets quarantined, boyfriend no longer speaks to her, gets depressed, learns to live and love again due to a fellow inmate. Bland story but at least you can like these characters and feel some empathy for their situation.
The last story is the comic relief to round out the story if the melodrama was too much for you previously. Eric Tsang is a troll of a man and an ambitious businessman oblivious to the effect of SARS until his businesses start failing. To provide for his family, he decides to kill himself so they can collect on the life insurance.
The film basically suffers from just being too short to be able to make any of the individual stories from being interesting to watch without resorting to melodrama and blatant emotional manipulation that makes you feel kind of dirty. Yet despite this, it is hard to grasp the actual significance the epidemic had on a personal basis. While we may see a number of deaths from the disease, the lack of any of any of the main characters suffering from the disease terminally means we maintain a certain distance from it akin to when the epidemic appreared in reality. Like a car crash we pass on by secretly glad it wasn’t us.