The Home Song Stories

The Home Song Stories


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Rose (Joan Chen) is a nightclub singer in Hong Kong in the Sixties who seduces an Australian sailor (Steven Vidler) and accompanies him back to Melbourne with her children, 10-year-old Tom (Joel Lok) and 14-year-old May (Irene Chen). A week after the wedding she leaves him and goes to live in Sydney amongst the Chinese community.

Based on real events from writer/director Tony Ayres’s childhood, The Home Song Stories – a title that remains inscrutable – is both dispassionate and nonjudgmental of this self-absorbed, manipulative, emotionally immature, alluring woman. Narrated by Ayres, now a middle-aged writer, he explains that the reason for making the film is “trying to understand her and the things she did.”

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Like girls who rely on their beauty to get what they want, Rose has faith in her ability to charm men into bed and, if required, move in with her and pay the bills. The children must make do and fit in around her arrangements with these “uncles” and, as a result, learn lessons of life that more secure, privileged kids would be protected from.

The film refers to the series of bad decisions Rose makes with money and men, including a return to Melbourne, where they live in her husband’s small suburban house with his appalled and appalling mother (Kerry Walker).

Despite everything, she continues to lavish affection upon the children. Tom pours over Chinese comics, studies the Encyclopedia Britannica and plays bridge with himself. Rose’s moods of elation and despair are dynamic and destructive. Her relationship with a young, handsome, illegal immigrant (Qi Yuwu) proves the longest lasting until his interest wanders towards May.

Rose screams at her daughter, dolled up for a date, “This is the face that killed your mother! You ruined my life! I wish I never had you!”

Ayres’s motive for making The Home Song Stories, as well as a tribute to a unique, damaged, mercurial lady, is never entirely realized. To understand Rose would take longer than an hour-and-a-half. As her looks fade, as the years pass, she can barely believe it, especially while watching the flowering of her once little girl. “This country too dry,” she says. “Makes skin like paper.” Not May’s. Not now.

Joan Chen captures the complexity of Rose’s character superbly, the way she uses people, believes in destiny, fights for justice in wars of the heart, hypersensitive towards rejection, ever hopeful of true romance, forever disappointed. Joel Lok gives a watchful and intelligent performance, as the son who worships his mother and must witness her pain, even when blocking his ears and shutting his eyes.

“It is extraordinary,” Ayres says, talking of himself and his sister, “that we ended up perfectly normal people.”

Rose was never normal. She was never safe to be with, either.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2007
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Chinese children grow up in Australia with their beautiful mother who was a nightclub singer in Hong Kong.

Director: Tony Ayres

Writer: Tony Ayres

Starring: Joan Chen, Qi Yuwu, Joel Lok, Irene Chen, Steven Vidler, Kerry Walker

Year: 2007

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Australia/Singapore

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