The Home Song Stories
Joan Chen, Qi Yuwu, Joel Lok, Irene Chen, Steve Vidler, Kerry Walker, Darren Yap, Anette Shun Wah
In the Mood for Love meets Mommie Dearest.
A melodrama about mothers and daughters, mothers and sons – and one small Chinese family struggling to stay together in 60s Australia. Based on the real events of director Tony Ayres’ childhood, The Home Song Stories is particularly interesting in the year when EIFF examines the written word. The writing here is so brutally honest that it would have been a brave achievement from any filmmaker, let alone the very person who lived through it.
Hong Kong, 1964. Glamorous nightclub singer Rose Hong (Joan Chen) meets and swiftly marries Bill, an Australian sailor. With her two children Tom (Joel Lok) and May (Irene Chen), she follows her new husband to suburban Melbourne – but their stay is brief. Leaving Bill almost as soon as her papers are legal, Rose takes the children to live among the small Chinese community in Sydney. Still not satisfied – not with love, her home or herself – Rose continues to shift from one relationship to another. For her children, there are always new “Uncles”.
Though the Chinese-Australian community is depicted as generous and supportive, it is decidedly separate from the white majority; much of the film’s dialogue consequently takes place in Cantonese and Mandarin. Alongside its highly personal narrative, Ayres’ film offers a frank portrait of the often fragile co-existence of two very different communities. The gulf is particularly apparent when Rose and Bill attempt to reconcile, while Bill’s very traditional mother continues to live in the same house as them.
Tom and May are always aware that Rose is different from other mothers. As small children, they adore this glamorous woman, who is, after all, childlike herself. Life is never dull with Rose, and the children are proud that she can charm almost anyone. With time, however, they long for some stability: a proper bed to sleep in, or the peace to finish some homework. Beneath the façade, of course, Rose is a deeply unhappy and lonely woman. Ayres’ skill is in maintaining the fine balance between our sympathy for Rose and our empathy with the two young children she drags through her messy life. Joan Chen’s dynamic and seductive performance captures Rose’s allure, while giving free rein to her disturbing excesses and fits of depression.
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