Wong Siu-pong’s documentary Fish Story explores what it’s like growing up in an adult world through the eyes of a group of children, focusing on the experiences of the poor and marginalised in Hong Kong.
The film’s title comes from the ancient Chinese classic Zhuangzi, in which two Taoist philosophers argue about the alternating viewpoints of fish: when one philosopher comments on how happy and free the fish appear to be, the other retorts: “How does one understand the joy of fish, if one is not a fish?”
This theme runs throughout the film, which features a number of different children, chiefly the smart and rebellious J, who lives with his Mainland Chinese single mother in a tiny apartment, and Jacky, who comes from a Vietnamese family and who suffers from low self-esteem and poor performance at school. The two inseparable friends and classmates attend Fresh Fish Traders’ School in Kowloon’s Tai Kok Tsui district together, the film following them as they go about their daily lives, capturing how an appearance on a television documentary about low-income families brings change to J and his mother.
Wong’s film is exceptionally intimate, including some telling and at times shocking revelations by the young boys about their home lives, and through this explores what the notion of family means to them, and how they deal with their parents’ hopes and dreams for them against a backdrop of economic strife. Socially conscious rather than sentimental, the film is a quietly moving work which never offers easy answers, and which gives a vital voice to those who sadly all too often go unheard.