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The Next Reel • Season 11 • Series: Ann Hui • Song of the Exile (1990)

Song of the Exile

"Even my own daughter doesn’t care.”

There are a lot of elements from Ann Hui’s own life in her film Song of the Exile. It’s not a biographical film, though. Knowing that, what are we meant to take away from it? Is it an exploration of Hui’s own life? A chance for her to exorcise some demons from her youth? Or did she simply use those elements as a way to frame this story about a daughter slowly growing to know her own mother? Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our Ann Hui series with her 1990 film Song of the Exile.

We didn’t find as much to connect with in Song of the Exile.

This was a frustrating film experience for us. There were interesting story elements throughout the film, but they never congealed to make a complete film for us. It’s the story of a self-centered daughter who has to learn that her mother isn’t just someone to hate but who is a person with their own life journey and baggage. It’s the story of a mother who has to reconnect with her own past to find reconciliation and acknowledge that the life she’s living now is actually pretty good. But could it be more clear? We think so.

There are also elements of the East/West mentality throughout the film, though never completely clear with their intent. Is that simply because it was a Hong Kong film made at a time when China was getting close to taking over control of what was at the time a British colony? Or was there more here?

That speaks to some of our overall difficulties with the film – we don’t have a good understanding of the conflicts between China, Japan, and Manchuria, where some of this film takes place. Would more knowledge of that history have helped us? And would all of this work better for an audience from Hong Kong and the area?

Despite all of that, Maggie Cheung and Lu Hsiao-fen work well as daughter and mother. But this feels like a film that gets lost in its telling. Is this the mother’s story? The daughter’s? All in all, there are a lot of interesting elements and it certainly is a film worth looking at. We just found it disappointing in the end, but plenty of people seem to love this film, so perhaps it’s for you. So check out the movie then tune in to the episode! There is a lot to talk about in the film. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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