Down-to-earth Miriam Yeung fits role of selfless principal

Review Drama

LITTLE BIG MASTER (PG)

113 minutes/ Opens tomorrow/*** 1/2

The story: Based on a true story in Hong Kong. Principal Lillian Lui (actress Miriam Yeung) single-handedly tries to save a rundown kindergarten - with five pupils from poor backgrounds - from closing down.

An act of kindness by one selfless individual inspired the making of the movie Little Big Master.

In 2009, educator Lillian Lui answered a job vacancy advertisement and became a principal-cum-janitor for a meagre pay of HK$4,500 (about S$800) at the Yuen Kong Kindergarten in Yuen Long.

This uplifting episode made the news and also caught the attention of the movie's director Adrian Kwan. It also moved actress Yeung to take on the role.

Yeung sheds her goofy image here and is convincing as a determined teacher on a mission to give the underprivileged kids a shot at education.

Her enthusiasm is infectious as she bustles around tirelessly - she cleans the classroom, tries to raise funds and teach all at the same time.

It helps that the amiable Yeung already has a down-to-earth persona that fits the character. Perhaps motherhood has given Yeung, who has a two-year-old son, an insight into handling children.

In one scene, Lui gently coaxes the five girls to stop wearing face masks to school. The kids are told by their parents that they will be labelled as poor children if their faces are plastered in the press.

It pains Lui to hear their reasoning. She makes it a point to do home visits through which each pupil's family background is fleshed out.

Watching the precocious child actresses, who are a tad melodramatic at times, will bring some people to tears.

One young girl walks around precariously with tin cans fastened onto her feet so that she can reach the stove to make dinner for her sick elderly dad.

The child's plight is a striking contrast to the opening scene of a stressed-out boy with demanding parents at an elite school, Lui's former workplace.

You don't know which kid to feel more sorry for.

It is at this point that the disillusioned Lui questions the meaning of education - a message that is woven into the plot and will hopefully provide food for thought for the audience.

Gwendolyn Ng