top of page

Film Review: Still Human (2019) - Domestic Helper's Hong Kong Dream

Updated: Jan 17

Film Review: Still Human (2019) - Domestic Helper's Hong Kong Dream
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of STILL HUMAN (2019). ©Golden Scene Company Limited

First Feature Film Initiative

The Hong Kong government got started with filmmaking subsidies like Taiwan due to decades of stagnation since 1993. It's the first democratic financial film program in Hong Kong film history (1897- 1997). In the past, there was no such governmental fund like the First Feature Film Initiative before 2013. This subsidy program is more advanced than any Taiwan film subsidy that correctly prevents usurpation, domination and privatization of state subsidies by a certain small interest group. 

The aim of the FFFI is to support new directors and their film production teams to make their first feature films on a commercial basis in order to nurture talents for the film industry. (1)

It funds at most three films per year in two categories, like professional teams and students. As a result, the 3 major Hong Kong film schools (Hong Kong Baptist University; Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and City University of Hong Kong) themselves still have no filmmaking subsidies. However, any students can make their first commercial feature films with this subsidy. This drama genre film was made by this policy. And it is the most successful student made commercial feature film in Hong Kong. The budget is 5 million for students and 8 million for professionals in 2018. 

Another domestic film financing resource, The Film Development Fund (FDF), has also funded professionals, but not students, with state subsidies since 2008. These state subsidies are for local production, not for co-production with Mainland China basically. (2)

On the contrary, Japan's top film school, TUA (Tokyo University of the Arts), had ceased their first commercial feature film program for students in 2015. That was a leading film school policy which actually worked in Japan for the first time in Asia from 2007 to 2015, even though the US did not have such a program. And HK students now actually enjoy similar financial support and co-operation with the film industry. 

The main aim is to let students and professionals firmly establish their own production teams for future independent projects. That is critically important, especially for students. 

Still Human: Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong

5% of Hong Kong's population; 99% of them are females; the total number in recent years is about 400,000 including the two major ethnicities, such as Indonesians and the Philippines. They have no rights to live outside of employers' residents as resident workers for cleaning, bringing stuff, cooking, taking care of children, disabled and aged members, and doing whatever host families require them to do. 

They can only have statutory holiday, which is generally only Sunday. And there is not much freedom. Parks and streets are full of them on their holiday due to gatherings and sending purchased goods to their home countries. The weakness is not only law regulations and Hong Kong Chinese people's racist bias against them, but it also is the Cantonese language. 

The film's protagonist Evelyn Santos (Crisel Consunji) also suffers typical cultural barriers such as deception and bullying by petty market capitalists about daily purchases of their food. Dir. Oliver Siu Kuen Chan maturely depicted the typical situations in which most foreign house helpers suffer in Hong Kong every day. We can grab it in short words ''denial of human rights.'' Their social lives and activities are completely divided in this city, visually even in their houses. Chats in carbon sheets, closed doors, obvious social separations of both Chinese and people etc....they only get together with them when they work for the host families. 

However, this film cannot create Spartacus of poor foreign domestic home helpers for them. Instead, Dir. Oliver Siu Kuen Chan pursues capitalistic individualist dreams as their social solution. 

Spartacus of Poor Foreign Domestic Home Helpers?

The disabled construction worker, protagonist Cheong-Wing Leung, was well created by Anthony Chau-Sang Wong's brilliant acting. You can see a realistic approach and generalization of the social situation is highly embodied in characters. It should be aesthetically complimented. This film's production value is undoubtable, and it is the best technical achievement among all current Hong Kong films, including co-productions with Mainland China, yet it does not exceed the capitalistic individualist dream that it still sees ''turning into the opposite social class'' as an individual solution in society. 

In this film, Evelyn Santos, who seeks a photography job, just follows the legendary house helper who is married to a rich bank manager and becomes a capitalist who hires another house helper. Capitalistic individualism for themselves is not for others in its nature. It won't make them the Spartacus of poor foreign house helpers. Evelyn Santos first turns down offers but finally accepts studying abroad in France after the award-winning and Cheong-Wing Leung's arrangement. Her individualism wins and is revealed in the last sequence. Moreover, it is not persuasive if she loves him so much. 

''Turning into the opposite social class'' is a suggested solution in this film, like Hong Kong/ China/ American Dream. 

Thus, there still is a certain necessity to create Spartacus of foreign house helpers who bravely try to liberate the entire social class as their comrades. Of course, this must cross the redline to make films for the oppressed class. They should know that the true hero, the true protagonist, is someone who tries to liberate the oppressed class, not just save him/herself by becoming oppressors. 


(1) accessed 4/16/2019.

(2) accessed 4/16/2019.


Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to the professional film writer Ryota Nakanishi as author and a link to is provided.

This film article is for educational purpose only.

Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favour of fair use.

Film Review: Still Human (2019) - Domestic Helper's Hong Kong Dream


bottom of page