Angela Yuen, Anson Lo, Cheung Max Tat-Lun, Chow Chi Fai, drama, Edan Liu, Eric Tsang, Fung So Bar, Hedwig Tam, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Family, Leung Cho Yiu, Luk Sze Wong, movies, reviews, Teresa Mo, Tse Kwan-Ho, Wong Po Cheung, Wong Tsz Lo
January 21, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Eric Tsang
Cantonese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the dramatic film “Hong Kong Family” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: During a winter solstice family dinner, a violent fight tears the family apart, and eight years later, a visiting relative hopes to bring the estranged family members back together for another winter solstice dinner.
Culture Audience: “Hong Kong Family” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in capably acted dramas about family relationship problems, even if some of these issues have been presented in similar ways in much better movies.
Sometimes realistic, sometimes overly melodramatic, “Hong Kong Family” is saved from an uneven story by good acting from most of the cast members. It’s yet another movie about family members who gather for a holiday meal, start arguing, and then let resentments fester for a long time. The big question these types of movies usually have is: “Will the feuding family members reconcile?” “Hong Kong Family” has an authentic-looking portrayal for the way the movie answers this question. Viewers will have to wait until the end of the movie to find out if there is any reconciliation.
Directed by Eric Tsang (who co-wrote the “Hong Kong Family” screenplay with Shiu-Wa Lou and Leung Chuen Yeung), “Hong Kong Family” begins with a Hong Kong family of four driving in a car to a grandmother’s house for a family gathering to celebrate winter solstice. During this drive, tension is brewing between the two spouses. Outspoken wife Ling (played by Teresa Mo), who works as a housecleaner, is complaining because her mild-mannered husband Chun (played by Tse Kwan-Ho), who’s a taxi driver by trade, is currently unemployed.
Ling gripes about being the family’s sole source of income: “Don’t just depend on me.” Chun suggests that they sell their apartment for which they still have a mortgage, but this idea gets Ling even more agitated. Finally, to get Ling to calm down, Chun says that he has an upcoming job interview. Also in the car are this couple’s children: 20-year-old daughter Ki (played by Hedwig Tam) and son Yeung (played by Edan Liu), who’s about 17 or 18.
The family is driving to the house of Ling’s mother (played by Fung So Bar), who does not have a name in the movie. Also at this family gathering are Ling’s brother Ming (played by Leung Cho Yiu) and Ming’s wife Samantha (played by Luk Sze Wong). Ming’s mother dislikes Samantha so much, she won’t call Samantha by her first name and will only call her “that woman.” Ming and Samantha have an underage daughter, who is not at this family gathering, because Ming and Samantha won’t let Ming’s mother see this grandchild.
Not long after the family has gathered, the arguments start. Ming sees his mother furtively counting a hidden stash money in another room. Ming accuses her of counting the money because he thinks she’s suspicious that he stole cash from her. Ming’s mother denies it, but then she verbally lashes out at him because she gave money to Ming and Samantha for a start-up business that failed. Ming’s mother also has a lot of anger over not being able to see the daughter of Ming and Samantha.
After having a somewhat tense meal with the family, Ming eventually storms out of the house because his mother keeps calling Samantha “that woman,” after Ming tells his mother to stop doing that. And soon, two other members of the family will be leaving the house with bad feelings. One of them will stay away for eight years.
Ling and Chun are in a room together when Ling tells Chun that she wants a divorce. A stunned Chun has what can best be described as a meltdown that contradicts his usually easygoing personality. At first Chun, who doesn’t want to get divorced, tries to reason with Ling. When she says she won’t change her mind, he becomes infuriated, takes a knife and waves it in her face in a threatening manner as he yells at her.
Yeung hears the commotion and bursts into the room. He tries to defend and protect his mother. Chun and Yeung get into a scuffle that ends when Chun slaps Yeung hard in the face. A terrified Ling and Yeung then run way from the house.
The movie then fast-forwards eight years later. Chun and Ling are still married but are very emotionally distant from each other. It’s then revealed that after the violent fight with his father, Yeung immediately moved out of his parents’ apartment and has not been back to visit any family member’s home for the past eight years. Yeung will occasionally talk to Ling and Ki, but Yeung refuses to speak to Chun.
Meanwhile, Ki is now divorced and has moved back in with her parents. Chun has gone back to being a taxi driver, while Ling is still a housecleaner. In a conversation that Ki has with a potential new boyfriend, Ki says that she got married in her early 20s to move out of her parents’ home, but the marriage lasted only two years. Ki is currently drifting with no real goals or plans for her life.
As for Yeung, he graduated from college, and he is now a developer for a technology start-up business that he founded with his talkative and hyper best friend Birdy (played by Anson Lo), who is the company’s only other employee. The two pals want their company’s specialty to be video games. However, Yeung has invented a virtual-reality experience where people wearing a headset can have two-way conversations with a hologram of anyone they want.
This invention is a clunky part of the story that isn’t explained very well and is sort of dropped into the movie like a science-fiction subplot. Yeung is still working out some bugs in the invention’s artificial intelligence, and he really doesn’t want this game to be made available to the public. Birdy disagrees and thinks this invention should be marketed as a fun game.
In private, Yeung tests out the invention to “talk” to someone and confess his true feelings. (You don’t need to be a genius to figure out who that someone is.) Meanwhile, Birdy and Yeung meet with a wealthy potential client: a famous video gamer, who uses the alias Brother Love (played by Chow Chi Fai). Brother Love has got some family heartache of his own.
Meanwhile, Ling has a niece in her 20s named Joy (played by Angela Yuen) who is visiting Ling and Chun from the United Kingdom. Joy’s widower father, who was Ling’s brother, has recently died. And so, Joy has come to Hong Kong to be with her closest living relatives. When Joy finds out why Yeung has stayed away from family gatherings for the past eight years, she becomes motivated to try to reunite Yeung with the family for the upcoming winter solstice dinner.
Ki has stayed out of the conflicts between her brother Leung and their parents, because she’s got issues of her own with their parents. Ki thinks Ling is overbearing, while Ki thinks Chun doesn’t express his feelings very well. At a train station, Ki meets a stranger from Malaysia named Norman (played by Wong Po Cheung), and they strike up a mildly flirtatious conversation. Norman is a drifter who sells decorative rocks on the streets. He says he collects these rocks from places where he has been.
Norman and Ki go their separate ways at the train station without exchanging contact information. However, Norman tells Ki that she can look him up on Instagram, which is how she finds out where Norman is selling his rock collection in Hong Kong. Ki surprises Norman with a visit while he’s selling on the street, and they begin a low-key romance.
Some of the scenes in “Hong Kong Family” work very well, such as anything involving the dynamics between Chun and Ling, or the estrangement of Chun and Yeung. Other scenes are lackluster, awkward or sometimes seem out of place. Some characters outside of the main family are also underdeveloped. And for an unexplained reason, Ming and Samantha are never seen or talked about again after that winter solstice family dinner near the beginning of the movie.
Some of the scenes that could have used better character development are when Ling cleans the home of her affluent brother-in-law LK (played by Cheung Max Tat-Lun), who has an adorable nephew named Jayden (played Wong Tsz Lo), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. Ling likes spending time with Jayden, but LK makes Ling uncomfortable. It’s probably because LK treats Ling more like a housekeeper than a family member. She also can’t help but be envious that LK is better-off financially than Ling and Chun. These financial issues continue to put a strain on the couple’s marriage.
“Hong Kong Family” has ebbs and flows in the storyline. Some of it has meaningful and well-performed emotional scenes. Other parts of the movie look like “filler” scenes. Seasoned actors Mo and Tse give the best performances as Ling and Chun, who feel trapped in a marriage where the passion and trust have died. “Hong Kong Family” also credibly shows how family feuds can drag on when there’s a lack of communication or miscommunication.
Will family member Joy be the catalyst for a possible reconciliation between Chun and Yeung? And what about all of Ling and Chun’s marital problems? What will happen to Ki’s budding romance with Norman? Don’t expect the movie to answer all of these questions, because some things are left to a viewer’s speculation. However, by the end of “Hong Kong Family,” viewers will get a better sense of how these family members deal with the past, who they want in their present lives, and what they hope the future will hold for them.
Edko Films Ltd. released “Hong Kong Family” in select U.S. cinemas on January 6, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on November 24, 2022.