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Home Song Stories

Australia 2006
Directed by
Tony Ayres
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

The Home Song Stories

Synopsis: Tom (Darren Yap) is a writer in his forties. Back in 1964, his mother Rose (Joan Chen), a nightclub singer in Shanghai, followed an Aussie soldier back to Melbourne to marry him. After the short-lived marriage failed, young Tom (Joel Lok) and his sister May (Irene Chen) are dragged from “uncle to uncle” for seven years in Sydney, until they return to Melbourne, and briefly to the husband, Bill (Steven Vidler). Tom’s story then follows the tumultuous time in which his mother’s new and much younger lover Joe (Qi Yuwu) is the catalyst for a major family upheaval.

Director Tony Ayres who based this story on his own childhood opens his film by declaring: “If everyone has one story which defines them, then this is mine”.  The story is indeed a tragic one, since young Tom observes all the dramas that unfold but is perhaps too young to understand what drives his mother. His only way to cope with the events that happen is to distance himself emotionally.

The film’s strength lies in several contributing factors – the strong casting and performances, the lack of melodrama in what could be heavily overplayed scenes, beautiful cinematography, and the astonishing immediacy of the era in which it has been set.The look of the Melbourne suburbs in the 70s is brilliant. In one scene as the car pulls into the drive of a cream brick veneer, with the sprinkler going on the lawn, the camera angle virtually takes us back in time as if we are there in the car, seeing it all with the eyes of the new immigrants from Hong Kong. This Australian suburbia, of which Asians then formed such a minute part and which makes Rose so ill-at-ease is powerfully evoked in the film with many of the scenes carefully framed and composed without seeming forced and conjuring up great beauty, emotionality and a sense of nostalgia for the past - ours, Ayres’ and the film’s characters. The overall look is complemented by the excellent score.

Joan Chen is masterful as Rose, encapsulating the sensuality and glamour of this woman who feels so alienated, and is beyond understanding by either her son or the audience. She captures the complexities of her character, at once sad to be growing older, a loving but self-centred mother, jealous of her teenage daughter and looking forward to her children caring for her in her old age. Eleven-year-old Lok as Tom is a stunning find while Yuwu as Joe captures brilliantly the young man caught between youth and the desire to make his mark as a man in the world.

My only minor criticism of this wonderfully elegant and unpretentious film is that it could have been edited by a few minutes – some of the incidents feel repetitive and in need of consolidating. But this is negligible in what is a strikingly honest retelling of a man attempting to come to terms with, and love, a mother who ultimately caused him such pain. With the film receiving an international jury award at the latest Brisbane Film Festival, Home Song Stories is a worthy addition to the Australian film scene.




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