The Home Song Stories
The Home Song Stories is a slow building film which boasts some good storytelling and characterisation, and a fantastic performance from Joan Chen.
It tells the story of Rose, a nightclub singer from China who sees a better life for herself and her two children in Australia when she meets an Australian serviceman on duty there. They marry and move over to Australia where their new life begins, except Rose is never happy and flits from Uncle to Uncle.
She falls for an illegal immigrant from China, and much younger man, and the complications really begin in their lives when her daughter falls for the same man.
Based on the life experiences of the Writer and Director Tony Ayres, this is a very good film which carries some quite strong emotional punches.
The story builds slowly, but unlike some of the films from the Edinburgh Film Festival 2007, this one builds well and involves the audience. It concentrates on building the characters and the story, and it does this well enough to emotionally connect you with them.
The way the film is bookended by the scenes of the boy as a grown man are perhaps the strongest moments in the film in terms of scriptwriting. So easily these could have been the corniest, but they are given an emotional weight without stepping too far from reality, and the ending is a powerfully personal and insightful one. The final scenes are wonderfully written.
However I'm getting ahead of the film here. Joan Chen plays a wonderful lead that is almost impossible to feel sympathy for, or at times even like, until much later on in the film. I was growing frustrated with her characters choices and her continuing desire to follow the same mistakes that she had made time and time again.
What I also found frustrating were her children's lack of action when she made these same decisions, action which she tells them to take, and yet we see them accept them with a saddened resignation.
At times I found these moments very effective tools in the story, but for a few moments at the end of the film I felt I grew frustrated with the film itself for showing us these poor choices again. Overall though I think they were used well and gave Rose her human quality, that quality we see in all of us to make the choice that is worst for ourselves through simple habit and our nature.
The other excellent lead is that of Joel Tok who plays the young boy Tom. His performance here is actually his acting debut, and you would be hard pressed to realise that. He plays one of Rose's children and manages so easily to make an emotional connection with his character. He also manages to heighten the tension of some scenes as your concern and desire for him to turn out okay goes against the playing out of the scene.
In fact it's fair to say that the acting is strong throughout the cast, particularly with the leads. Irene Chan plays Rose's daughter very well, and comes into her own in the latter parts of the film. Qi Yuwu, who plays Joe, the man who falls for both mother and daughter, gives a convincing performance as a man torn between two women and his desire to enjoy his life as a young man.
The film is a sad emotional journey which builds to a powerful and very moving ending, and it's that ending that really does provide some of the best moments of the film. They reinforce the feelings of empathy with the children, particularly the young boy Tom.
The final closing speech of the author, who is the older Tom looking back on his life, is a wonderfully written and a very insightful scene, not to say emotional. It delivers the best lines of the film, a film which is well written and directed and packed with heart.
There were only a few issues I found with the film, and one wasn't even the fault of the film. The one that I felt could have been dealt with by the film was the pacing. It could have been a little shorter in the first three quarters with some more time being spent at the end of the film where the dramatic storyline of the characters comes to a head, however that really is a minor gripe.
What was more of an issue was the distracting issue of the projection. In the early part of the film I was thinking that something was wrong with framing of the film and then I realised that there was a strip of picture showing above the actual screen – the projectionist had mis-framed the film and we were losing the top part of the picture.
I had been thinking that the framing was slightly off and then I realised why. Although it did spoil some of the early film for me, as soon as I was connected to these characters the poor projection was gone from my mind and I was fully with the story.
This is a strong emotional drama with some great writing and good performances.