Home Song Snoring

February 17, 2008

I finally caught up with Home Song Stories – the other much lauded Australian film of 2007 – on DVD having missed its blink and you’ll miss it theatrical run.

As I had been told its basically Romulus My Mother. Instead of European New Australian’s we are treated with the Asian variety this time round.

The film is obviously heartfelt by writer and director Tony Ayers and you can’t help but sympathise with him for his childhood… but really is it a good idea for commercial cinema? Confessional novel, yes, film, well…

It’s about Rose, a successful Hong Kong nightclub singer who comes to Australia. Rose is a little bit of a tart it seems…by her own son’s portrayal in this movie. She goes from home to home, with her two poor kids, and from Uncle to Uncle who can’t wait to bed her. In Australia there’s Uncle Bill, a nice enough Anglo Aussie sailor, whose Mom looks and acts like an aging Pauline Hanson, determined to prove that her son’s new love is a using money hungry slut. As Uncle Bill is away and Rose has no one to play with her Chinese butterfly, she goes to Uncle Joe, the handsome but sleazy Asian Illegal immigrant chef at the local Chinese Take Away. Things go swimmingly like a slow boat down the Yangtze until Bill’s mom catches Uncle Joe slipping Rose the old Spring Roll, then its crazier than a Cultural Revolution. Mom kicks out Rose, family and friend faster than it takes to order dim sum. Joe and Rose then go it alone living in a shit hole rented to them by an exploitative fellow Chinese Australian. Uncle Joe gambles and has eyes for Rose’s teenage daughter and is soon reaching for the jailbait. This brings on suicide attempt 1 from Rose. Followed by suicide attempt 2 from daughter over her guilt for Joe’s wandering eye. Followed, eventually by 3rd (this time successful) suicide attempt from Rose… after more poverty and drudgery.

Sounds like a fun evening in, hey? Your running for the DVD library as I speak, right?

Joan Chen is good though as Rose and gives a strong performance like Bana in Romulus, but again such bleak subjects. The film is saved partially by a nice sequence that explains why Rose is fucked up, involving family arranged underage marriage back in Hong Kong to a man called Mr Sun. This sequence works and lifts the film a bit. Also good are the daydreams of the young Tom who has fantasies of defeating family foe’s in mock martial arts sequences. Both are nice additions to the story.

While these later elements lifted the film from the complete doldrums of Romulus My Father, one can’t get away from the question: Who on God’s Green Earth would want to watch such depressing fare? From the box office of Home Song Stories, the answer is not many.

This film spends about a quarter of its time in suicide wards and the plot is dreary by necessity given its tale, that leads to sleep inducing sequences. Snore, Snore…

Both Romulus and Home Song Stories are supposed to be Politically Correct examinations of migrant stories but oddly enough both are examples of the failure of multiculturalism. Both families are outcast, alienated, broke and alone in their new country to the point of serious desperation and then suicide. Rose says in the film, “Australia is cursed. I wished I had never left Hong Kong”. Well, it might have been cursed for her, but her later sentiment one cannot help but agree with. She may well have been happier staying in her own country, where she was a hit club singer and trying to succeed in a culture she knows, understands and was born into.

Home Song Stories is out now on DVD in Australia.

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