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A Family Tour

A Film Review

A Family Tour
Directed by Liang Ying
Produced by 90 Minutes Film Studio, Potocol, Shine Pictures
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, 2018 (USA release)
Mandarin, Cantonese with English subtitles
107 minutes in duration

Every April the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul holds a two-week International Film Festival, which gives me the chance to catch up on recent Chinese movies. One of the movies on the schedule this year was A Family Tour, directed by Yang Liang.

The movie tells the story of a dissident filmmaker named Yang Shu who, after producing a film that angered Chinese authorities, is now living in Hong Kong with her husband and son. She has not seen her aging mother in China for five years, so when she is invited to screen her movie at a film festival in Taiwan, she and her husband plot a reunion, arranging for Yang Shu’s mother to join a guided tour to Taiwan at the same time. For several days the family shadows the tour group as they rush around Kaoshiung, meeting up with mom at various tourist stops and restaurants, pretending to be local friends.

It is a story about exile. Yang Shu and her family are in exile from their home in China, something they are reminded of every time someone asks them if they are from Hong Kong or China. Her mother is in exile in her own land due to the forced separation from her daughter.

The mainland tourists are temporarily in exile as well, since they have had to turn over all of their travel documents to the tour guide so none of them will wander away. For the duration of their trip, their tour bus is their home.

At each stop where they meet up, the mother and daughter struggle to re-connect. They talk, reminisce, looking for ways to end the exile. Yang Shu’s mother wants her to write an apology for the offending film and return home. Yang Shu wants her mother to move to Hong Kong so she can take care of her. Yang Shu’s husband is in the middle, trying to protect each of them from their love for one another, a love that might compel each of them to do things that would be detrimental to themselves. For the daughter, the price of renouncing her work and returning to China would be giving up her film career. For the mother, moving to Hong Kong would mean turning her back on a country that she has spent a lifetime serving. In the meantime, the police are pressuring her to break off relations with her “bad” daughter.

Does she love her daughter enough to break off relations? Unfortunately, that’s a question that thousands of Chinese have had to make over the years as the party-state does not tolerate dual loyalty; when the choice is between the state and the family, one must choose.

The movie is interminably slow and plodding, in a typical Chinese movie sort of way. There are long shots with no dialog or music, sometimes with the characters sitting or walking together. In many ways I felt like I was watching a movie in slow motion.

But maybe that’s the point—that life in exile is like being in or watching a slow-motion movie. And since the story is autobiographical for the director, he would know.  

I haven’t been able to find a place this film is available online, so keep an eye out in your town for it to show up at a film festival or indie movie theater.

Image credit: A Family Tour trailer.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul …View Full Bio

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