A Family Tour (2018) Poster


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A poignant, emotional take on a universal dilemma.
shanbhattacharya_19 February 2020
Even if an international audience is not aware enough about the history and the contemporary political details about the inter-relationship between mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, there is something universal about an artist's relationship with their country's laws of censorship. Having said that, audience from many perpetually liberal countries will have a difficult time appreciating a film like this - a film that has so many rough edges out of a humble production. If you have lived in a repressive state that treats its political dissenters with fierce spite, you can totally relate to the dilemma of a political artist - whether to conform and protect your family from state vendetta or to continue with your ideological battle even at the cost of putting your loved ones in trouble. The director of this film seems to tell their own deeply personal experiences, a rather absurd one at that, through a lens of fiction. Yet its connections to reality are deeply unnerving. There is little point in evaluating a film like this in terms of the quality of production, acting etc. Still the director has managed to unfold several subtle, poignant instances of human reaction. The characters appear all too real. Playing the protagonist must have been difficult for the actress - her character is an emotional mess, yet adopting a deadpan exterior to suppress all the anger inside. The occasionally brilliant screenplay doesn't say much, but suggests a lot- a trait I have often come to appreciate in cinema.
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Busman's Holiday
politic198323 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Alongside his companion piece "I Have Nothing to Say", Liang Ying delivers an autobiographical tale based on his own family holiday and struggles as a political filmmaker, as well as growing concerns of mainland Chinese political influence growing in Hong Kong.

Shu (Zhe Gong), a film director and lecturer, travels to Taiwan from Hong Kong with her husband Ka-ming (Pete Teo) and son. Attending a festival where her film from five years ago will be screened, the trip is a cover-up for Shu to meet with her mother Xiaolin (Nai An), still living in Shanghai - a place where Shu is unable to visit, being that she is living in a self-imposed exile in Hong Kong.

To offer Xiaolin the opportunity to meet her grandson for the first time, Shu and her family follow Xiaolin's coach tour of Kaohsiung, but at a distance to ensure their secret remains safe, so as Xiaolin will avoid interrogation from the authorities on her return to Shanghai as to her reasons for visiting Taiwan.

A natural distance, therefore, is shown, both physical and emotional, Shu not having seen her mother for five years. To start, the pair are unsure how to respond on seeing each other for the first time. Ka-ming acts more as the linking presence due to his frequent visits to see his mother-in-law; free to move between Hong Kong and Shanghai. But as the film develops, they open up more as to the complex situation. But, with Shu having difficulties getting her next project off the ground and learning that her funders have disappeared, it becomes apparent that all will not be well for Xiaolin upon her return.

Taken ill as the trip draws to an end, Xiaolin has to return to Shanghai early for treatment. Ka-ming flies back with her, but she leaves Shu knowing that it will be the last time they ever see each other.

Despite its release before "A Family Tour", "I Have Nothing to Say" shows the aftermath of the trip: Xiaolin interrogated about her visit to Taiwan. Entirely in black and white, episodes from the holiday and meeting with her daughter are shown from the mother's perspective as she reflects on them. "A Family Tour", however, is entirely in colour, with some of the exact same scenes featuring again, though more vibrant.

The colour also adds more life to the situation. "I Have Nothing to Say" is recalling memories of the trip from Xiaolin's perspective, whereas "A Family Tour" shows more angles, with more equal focus on the mother, her daughter and her son-in-law. But where its predecessor focused more on past events, "A Family Tour" has more of a future focus. Ying obviously puts his own anxieties on the table in depicting Shu's difficulties with getting her new film project made. Not having made a film for five years, she struggles to get actors to take on the film about the Umbrella Movement. Greater fears are shown in the film's backers mysteriously disappearing when in China.

Ka-ming takes a positive outlook, but Xiaolin shuts this down as Hong Konger nonsense. Ying perhaps has even greater anxieties regarding the growing influence of China in Hong Kong, having experienced difficulties himself. The film Shu is in Taiwan to screen is Ying's own 2012 film "When Night Falls" - the film which led to his exile in Hong Kong after angering the authorities. There is, therefore, a lot of Ying in this film: based on a trip he took with his in-laws to Taiwan, with Shu's situation reflecting his own.

Taiwan is shown as a nice medium - a happier place with its independence - but "A Family Tour" isn't too heavy-handed in its politics, despite being present throughout. There is still a story of a divided family being shown, with Ka-ming almost serving as a link between the two women, and seemingly having a better relationship with his mother-in-law than his wife does with her own mother. To start, her grandson is cold towards Xiaolin. But by the film's conclusion, he is happy to sit with her and pose for photos, which he refused on first arriving in Taiwan. The tour guides also offer some comedy and light-relief to stop it getting too bogged-down in politics.

Despite coming after "A Family Tour" chronologically, "I Have Nothing to Say" acts as a good appetiser, giving a brief glimpse before the main event sheds more light on the journey, but also serves as a reminder that in making this trip some people believe Ying has a lot to answer for.
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A family reunion and a crossroads between the familiar and the political
danybur26 January 2021
Yang Shu, a young dissident Chinese director and exile in Hong Kong (Gong Zhe) attends as a guest with her husband and young son to a film festival in a city in Taiwan, also joining a tour of that city that they arranged with her mother (still residing in China and which he could not visit), considering various possibilities from that reunion.

A Family Tour is a film by Liang Ying that paints with calm tension various edges of a problematic relationship between mother and daughter, marked by loss, exile and different views on politics and its effects.

To what extent do family histories mark political elections and artistic militancy? To what extent can artistic militancy determine behaviors at the family level to transform them into political and therefore public messages? How does politics get in the way of family ties? How do mother and daughter decode each other's decisions?

The film soberly (and with lines of poetry) poses this family reunion as a crossroads and at the same time a continuum of blurred boundaries between those private and public, personal and artistic dimensions.
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Politics against family
MiguelAReina22 January 2021
There is a certain sense of defeat in the protagonist (Yin Liang's alter ego), whose last movie she shot five years ago. A pessimistic vision of the power of cinema as a political denunciation. Almost with a Zen pace, the story finds in the family reunion the only glimmer of hope, but following a certain formality ("it's the Chinese way of loving"). Separation becomes defense of emotions against controlling politics. Hope is an illusion.
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The political and the personal
veenago6 January 2021
First, I agree with the reviewer Shan Bhattacharya. What is the purpose of this film? For me it is to show the complex relationships between the state-level politics of countries and individuals who live in them and then the interrelations between the countries and individuals. Sounds dry? Well, this movie is anything but! The above thematic is shown through a very human drama. There is conflict, compelling characters, drama, good dialogue for the most part, and a sense of menace that hands over each scene (once we understand what is going on.) Also a lot of subtext.

I think a viewer will need to have at least some basic knowledge of China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the history and relationships therein, recent events and also some understanding of "Asian family values" (yah I'll go as broad as that) and Chinese culture to really appreciate a complex, nuanced and essential film, which, by the way is far from perfect.

I was not always awed while I was watching this movie, though fascinated, but after it ended and I saw all the aspects/threads and mulled on them and the interconnections I could only say WOW!

I am an activist and rebel type of person, a woman, rooting for social justice and democracy, and I am is happy to have seen a film with a strong if flawed activist-filmmaker woman protagonist and a film that reflects my concerns in the world rather than a more "vapid" perfect film about/on topics that I don't give a damn about!
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