After my recent venture into World Cinema territory, I thought I might bring you a review of something closer to home. So here is my review of Home Song Stories, a wonderful Australian drama. However, unlike the French action flick that I reviewed for you recently, I do not think I really need to justify the existence of my review of Home Song Stories on Heroic Cinema, because it is very much an Asian film. Its cast consists of mainly Asian actors. Its director is an Australian Chinese, and the script is based on the true story of his own childhood.
The central character of the film is Rose, a beautiful nightclub singer who has a couple of children, May and Tom. When she marries an Australian sailor, the whole family moves from Hong Kong to Melbourne. There, she begins her journey to find a home, drifting from place to place, and from man to man…
Rose is a flawed but compelling character. As an ageing beauty, she seems to have a habit of choosing the wrong men, and is forever struggling with the consequences of her own poor decisions in life. The viewers will have to make up their own minds as to whether she is a thankless and ‘ungrateful’ person, or just a loving mother trying desperately to cope with life’s challenges. Joan Chen’s performance portraying this complex character is totally mesmerising and absolutely outstanding. All the acting awards that she has won for this role are truly well deserved.
The other key character of the film is Tom, played by newcomer Joel Lok, a charming and immensely likeable child actor. His facial expressions give a sense of innocence, and many viewers will immediately fall in love with him. Tom is a lonely character, who plays cards with imaginary friends, and struggles to find friends in the new country. Because of his mother’s inability to properly care for the family, he is often asked to take on the role of an adult, something no child should really have to go through. His dream sequences, based on Chinese movies of the past, demonstrate his deeper and more childish emotions.
Irene Chen is the other young actor in the movie, and she plays Tom’s sister. This beautiful actress gives an intelligent performance, and handles the more difficult scenes with confidence. No doubt she had benefited enormously from working with such fine actors as Joan Chen. Their love-hate relationship as mother and daughter is just so wonderfully realised on screen.
The film touches on a number of serious themes, such as family relationships, the pains of growing up, and most importantly, the subject of love. There are a lot of emotionally powerful scenes throughout the film, but it is the quieter moments that give audiences the most insight into what life is really like for the characters. The parts of the film that invoke the strongest feelings in me are in fact those quieter moments, like the lonely bus trip home from the hospital, and the prayers by a child faced with much more than he could understand and bear.
Tony Ayres, as the writer and director of the film, has shown honesty and sincerity in telling this personal story of his family relationships and painful childhood memories. What he has gone through has obviously had a profound effect on him, and the emotions in the film are incredibly real. The film is a loving tribute to his mother, whom he really did not understand but nevertheless loved. Creating the film may well be a process of self discovery and a means of recovering from past wounds for him. The courage shown in doing so has certainly earned my respect, and I cannot agree with Tony more, that ‘life is a gift’, and one that should be cherished.