Sunday, May 4th, 2014


The Leng family are an upwardly mobile middle-class family in Singapore who are striving for a better life. Hwee the mother is expecting her second child and works full time as a secretary where she is being constantly interrupted at her office by phone calls from the school where Jiale her neglected 10 year old son is always in trouble. Teck the father, a mild mannered man, is a rather incompetent salesman who is hoping to secure the family’s future by secretly investing in the stock market.  The arrival of Theresa the maid they have paid to come over from the Philippines is meant to answer all their problems, but it actually heralds the start of the crisis that threatens to engulf the entire family.
Hwee is the tough one in this family and it is she that lays out the very strict rules that Theresa must follow as she is to effectively do all the household work and cook etc. for slave wages. She is less successful controlling her son who resents that he is so neglected by her and his father, and so she is happy to hand over responsibility for him to the maid. Jiale takes an instant dislike to this stranger who he is expected to share his bedroom with, and so strives hard to make mischief that will get the poor woman in trouble. Teck is so absorbed in the potential losses he is now facing with his bad investments, he is barely aware of what is happening in his own home.
The year is 1997 and Singapore’s economy is about to go into a steep decline which will have deep repercussions throughout the whole region. Heck spends her days typing out letters of dismissal to halve the work force at her office, and Teck is actually fired from his job, a fact that he keeps secret from his wife.  Theresa, who is aways completely subservient and never even raises her voice no matter how harshly she is treated by the family, has her own worries too. She is expected to send money back home to care for her baby son that she left behind, so she starts to sneak out of the house, and do hairdressing jobs on the side.
When someone in their apartment building becomes the latest suicide victim as a result of worsening economy, the Lengs …. particularly the mother …. do their best to ignore the reality that the recession is deepening. They attend a family celebration and give generously as always even though Teck is now working secretly as an hourly paid security guard and their old car is about to give up on them too.  The only bright side is that Theresa and Jiale have bonded so well. although his oft-absent mother is starting to get jealous of his relationship.
Despite her harsh manner dealing with them all, there is actually a very compassionate side to Hwee, and it shows once that it is clear that she must be the one to make the tough calls when Teck finally confesses about losing their savings and his job.  They may end up losing all that they have striven for, but in an adverse way, it seems to bring the family closer together.
This movie, the first ever written and directed by Anthony Chen is evidently semi-autobiographical, a fact that contributes into making the harsh reality of the family seem even more poignant.  It’s a tight, tense story that unravels without a pause and its telling has the benefit of some first class and very compelling performances from the small cast.
This multi-award winning movie is highly recommended.

Available at Amazon 


Posted by queerguru  at  20:59


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