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:: The Home Song Stories

In The Home Song Stories, director Tony Ayres takes a personal turn and points the camera into some of the darkest parts of his soul - those of a childhood spent wandering a new country vastly different to his homeland of China. He clearly grew up stronger as a result of his experiences and the film no doubt represents something of a catharsis for him. As his “character” says the film was made to understand, to punish, to remember, to forgive and to love.

Fictionalising a life filled with loss and challenges, Ayres recreates himself in Tom (Joel Lok), an eleven-year-old whose mother is unashamedly opportunistic. When Shanghai nightclub singer Rose (Joan Chen) recognises that things in the China of the early 60s are soon to change for the worse, she accepts an offer of marriage from Australian merchant seaman Bill (Steven Vidler), and relocates her family to suburban Melbourne, where the contrast to Shanghai could not possibly be more stark. Locals in her suburb cannot help but stare at this exotic creature clad in shimmering silken cheong-sams; despite an initial awestruck welcome from other expatriate Chinese - the local Chinese restaurant owner instantly offers her a job - and some very quick adaptation by her children to their new surrounds, Rose's ultimate reaction is to run.

She drags her children back and forth between Melbourne and Sydney, introducing them to a string of ‘uncles’, before finally running back to Bill and a mother-in-law (Kerry Walker) who is grey in all senses of the colour. This turbulent lifestyle has dreadful effects on Tom and May (Irene Chen), who struggle to maintain a loving relationship with their mother.

The remarkable Joan Chen creates a complex character in Rose, who manipulates the sympathies and frustrations of her audience through a performance that is simply electric in its transformation. Her co-stars Irene Chen and Joel Lok rise to the challenge of working with such a veteran actor; the latter found himself nominated for and winning a number of awards for his role.

There are many plus points in this movie which makes it exquisite, and the wonderful songs used accentuates the era of that time perfectly. What made it work too was that the characters aren't forced to speak only one language, highlighting their multi-lingual nature quite naturally as they converse in Cantonese, Mandarin and English.

Ayres directs well although I felt that the grim tone of the film doomed even the happy scenes making it hard going at times. Still it is well acted, beautifully and accurately costumed and handsomely photographed. It is a high point for recent Australian cinema and deservedly won recognition at last year's AFI awards with gongs for direction, script, acting (Joan Chen), score, cinematography, editing, costume and production design.

At its core, The Home Song Stories evokes painful memories, but also brings about the notion of forgiveness, remembering and honouring those memories.

DVD Extras

Audio Commentary - Tony Ayres
Featurette - Making Of
Deleted Scenes with Commentary
Interviews - Cast & Crew by At The Movies : Margaret Pomeranz with Tony Ayres & Joan Chen
Featurette - Screen Tests (Joel Lok & Irene Chen)
Theatrical Trailer - Australian
Theatrical Trailer - International
DVD-ROM Extras - Study Guide
Gallery - Photo/Key Artwork