There have been a few Chinese films that have screened for the press so far at the 56th Annual New York Film Festival. Something I’ve noticed about them is that they all have A LOT of cigarette smoking, but no overt mention of politics, at all, across the board. Then I realized that it’s probably because Chinese filmmakers can’t make films about their political reality…because of their political reality. A Family Tour differs from most modern Chinese films in this way because the director, Liang Yeng, is in political exile from The People’s Republic. Oddly enough, that is the core subject matter of A Family Tour.
The film focuses on revolutionary filmmaker Yang Shu (Gong Zhe) and a trip she’s taking to Taiwan for a film festival. Or that’s what it says on her travel visa. Yang has been exiled to Hong Kong after the last film she made five years before, which was a documentary about a man who was executed for shooting a policeman. There is a film festival, but the main purpose of the trip is for Yang and her husband Cheune Ka-Ming (Pete Teo) to introduce their son Yue Yue to Yang’s mother, Chen Xiaolin (Nai An), who Yang hasn’t seen in person since before the exile.
“…the purpose of the trip is for Yang and her husband…to introduce their son to her.”
Ka-Ming organized the whole thing so that they can follow Chen on the tour, without being a part of it, because tourism is heavily monitored by the state. There are plenty of scenes with Yang, Ka-Ming and Yue Yue following Chen’s tour bus in taxis.
Chen Xiaolin is very different from Yang Shu in the way that she does not question the intentions of the People’s Republic. Even though the state is digging up her husband’s remains to move to a new cemetery because they have to build a road there, or moving to a new home because another thing has to be built where her home is located. Xiaolin’s parents were sent to forced labor camps when she was a child and she had to work in a state-sanctioned factory for 12 years herself.
It’s pretty normal for children and their parents to have differences of political opinion but in this situation, it’s so much more than that. Chen Xiaolin is ill and has to have an operation. She concealed this fact from Yang Shu. Yang Shu desperately wants to return to China to help her mother or have her mother move to Hong Kong so that she and Ka-Ming can take care of her, but Chen Xiaolin is not having any of it. In fact, she makes it quite clear that this will be the last time that they see each other.
“…shedding light on the political situation in China that most Americans or even Europeans aren’t acutely aware…”
The dialogue in A Family Tour is incredible. Yang Shu and Chen Xiaolin are equally stubborn and set in their ways, showing how alike they are, while also causing them never to be on the same page. It reminds me of a lot of family dynamics, except for the most part, in our reality, the stakes are never that high. I also appreciate this film for shedding light on the political situation in China that most Americans or even Europeans aren’t acutely aware of for the most part.
I implore you to check out this film if it comes through your town because it will open up your eyes to something half of the world’s population is dealing with on a daily basis, and it will also break your heart with its bittersweet family saga.
A Family Tour Directed by Liang Ying. Starring Gong Zhe, Nai An, Pete Teo, Tham Xin Yue. A Family Tour screened at the 2018 New York Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars