Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 7pm
Ann Hui's Song of the Exile

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Introduced by Nick Pinkerton

Song of the Exile, Ann Hui, 1990, 16mm, 100 mins

Ann Hui was, alongside the likes of Tsui Hark and Patrick Tam, one of the leading lights of the Hong Kong New Wave, working steadily as a feature filmmaker since making her astonishing debut with 1979’s The Secret. If Hui has sometimes failed to be recognized as one of the greatest living female directors, then, it is perhaps due to the enormous eclecticism of her filmography, which encompasses ghost stories, political thrillers, crime dramas, comedies, period pieces, sprawling wuxia, and old-fashioned melodrama.

Song of the Exile is arguably Hui’s most personal work, a film à clef starring Maggie Cheung as Hueyin, a Hong Konger who, upon completing her studies in England in 1973, returns home for her sister’s wedding, where she’s forced to reckon with her hard-edged Japanese-born mother (Lu Hsiao-fen) and their complicated dynamic. Hueyin’s story has clear parallels to Hui’s own—both are daughters of a mixed Japanese-Chinese marriage, both educated abroad, like many prosperous Hong Kongers of their generation. (Hui studied at London Film School.) It also reflects something of Cheung’s own experience, having been largely educated in Britain, and an experience of diasporic rootlessness common to many Chinese living through the wartime and postwar years—its story unfolding in present and flashback timelines, Song of the Exile sets scenes in Hong Kong, Macao, London, occupied Manchuria, Guangdong, and Beppu, Japan, with dialogue spoken in Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and English.

Hui was more than acquainted with the strategies of experimental art and literature in the 1960s and 70s—she wrote her thesis on Alain Robbe-Grillet—and helped to usher the language of cinematic modernism into Hong Kong movies, but undergirding her work is an essentially emotional and populist impulse, nowhere more evident than in the enormously moving, five-hankie Song of the Exile. What the film depicts, with nuance and a remarkably delicate feeling for the invisible currents that pass between people, are the myriad little stored-up resentments that comprise family relationships, as well as the grudging, painful work that comes of moving beyond those resentments, in this case through learning to recognize one’s mother as a fellow, flawed human being. It’s anchored by two magnificent central performances, with special notice due to Cheung, one of the finest actresses of her generation, here displaying not only her usual wide-eyed emotional opacity but, in the film’s stranger-in-a-strange-land Japanese passages, a gift for understated comedy.

- NP

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 6:30pm.

Print courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.