Ling Jia, Xiaofel Zhang, Teng Shen
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…touching and well realised family dramedy.
Chinese co-writer/director and star Ling Jia has crafted a heartfelt film about a mother and daughter that uses elements of fantasy, slapstick comedy and drama to express the meaningful bond that is created between parent and child.
A huge commercial success in China (which has inspired many to share the stories of their own relationships with their mother in online forums), Ling Jia used elements of her own biography to create the story, and the authentic nature of what she achieves here shines through even when the film veers occasionally into the absurd.
Jia Xio Ling (Ling Ja) isn’t what anyone would call a typically desirable daughter; she’s not attractive, her grades are average at best, and she feels that she has let her mother down by not fitting into the perfect ideal of young womanhood. She goes as far as to have her university acceptance faked to make her mother proud of her. After a particularly disastrous party where Jia Xio Ling’s deception is uncovered, her mother has a terrible accident. Whilst in the hospital, a strange occurrence sends the daughter from the present (2001) back to 1981 where she meets her mother as a young woman.
Ling’s mother, Li Huan Ying (Xiaofei Zhang) meets the strange young woman and immediately recognises her as a ‘cousin.’ The two become fast friends, with Ling intervening more than once on Ying’s behalf with her rival Wang Qin. Firstly, she arranges through somewhat absurd subterfuge, to ensure that Ying is the first person to bring a television to the factory in which she works.
Determined to make her mother happy, Ling undertakes to arrange a more profitable life for the young woman by ensuring that she is given a life changing opportunity. This opportunity comes in the form of Ying playing in a volleyball game that Ling’s aunt had assured her in 2001, would have set her on the path to something special – a path that was eventually taken by Wang Qin, a wealthy doyenne of their social group in 2001.
Ling begins to understand that the missed opportunity was a chance for Ying to meet and eventually fall in love with Shen Guang Lin, the son of the factory owner and soon to be senior Party member. Ling tries everything from arranging boating expeditions to appearing in amateur dramatics to help the budding romance take flight. Not only is she trying to change her mother’s future, she is also trying to change her own. Instead of the clumsy and average young woman she sees herself as, with a new and more successful father, she too may amount to something greater in the future.
At times, the escapades seem drawn out and reliant on humour that doesn’t always translate. However, the bond between Ling and Ying is strengthened at every turn. Ling makes Ying happy, just not in the way she expected. Failing to secure a new future for her mother leaves Ling devastated until she begins to understand Ying’s desires aren’t for a grand life. A final twist in the plot reveals an emotional core to the film which will leave many deeply moved.
Ling Ja’s performance is warm and funny, but it is Xiaofei Zhang who is the true star of the film. Ying is a delightful character and by the time the audience has spent time with her and Ling, the bond between the two women is deeply felt. The ensemble cast works a treat in elevating some of the extended comic sequences.
It isn’t surprising that Hi, Mom has been met with acclaim in China, because it is a touching and well realised family dramedy. The film has a broad appeal and audiences should be prepared to laugh and cry as it takes them on a journey through the pure love between a mother and her daughter.