My American Grandson

Reviewed by YTSL

After viewing the terribly downbeat "Eighteen Springs", I vowed that I would never watch another Ann Hui film again.  Now I'm here to report that I sincerely regret having broken that pledge.  I'd also like to urge the readers of this review -- if they do indeed exist! -- to promise to administer (virtual) slaps on my face should I ever again be tempted to check out another one of this surprisingly much respected director's works, even if they happen -- as has too often been the case -- to feature some of my very favorite actresses.  Having gotten this lament out of the way...

Especially considering that it's directed by Ann Hui, MY AMERICAN GRANDSON is not a depressing affair.  This despite the movie's main character being a lonely old man (Wu Ma in the quietest and most passive mode and role I have ever seen him in) and there being tears shed by more than one individual in this small scale drama which does visually benefit from having been shot entirely in Shanghai and the countryside outside of China's largest city.  This even though the film's primary story focuses on the troubled, temporary return by a very Americanized boy (Wong Kwan Yuen's character is first shown as an English-speaking, gum-chewing, denim-wearing, baseball capped, skateboard-equipped spoiled brat) to a land whose people, including his grandfather, he disparages at one point as living like dogs (on account of their homes being spartan, single room affairs with a communal kitchen and no bathrooms attached).

Instead, it is the s-l-o-w pace and meandering manner in which MY AMERICAN GRANDSON's tale unfolds -- the grandson does not make an appearance, and so things don't really get going, until the 25th minute of this 100 minute length movie! -- that I find more problematic.  Considering that these seem to be characteristics of Ann Hui's works, I should have been prepared for this.  Regardless, whether they be a conscious style on the part of the auteur or not though, I am in complete accord with Paul Fonoroff's assessment that what we end up having in the movie is at least "fifteen minutes of emptiness before the action commences".

Not content with languorously mapping out of a retired teacher's simple life, Ann Hui elects to take a similarly leisurely route to establish that his annoying grandchild has much to learn in terms of cultural sensitivity and respect for others whom he deems as stupid as well as foreign.  While I usually do not agree with the notoriously negative film critic, I feel obliged to opine that Fonoroff was actually understating the situation when he suggested that "watching a thirty-minute temper tantrum does not make for a pleasant viewing experience" (See his "At the Hong Kong Movies", 1998:185).  This particularly since the person having the prolonged hissy fit is by far the least sympathetic character in the entire movie (A sense of how aggravating this individual is can be deduced from my thinking that he has even less to endear him than the rude boy who ends up getting mothered by Michelle Yeoh's character in "Ah Kam", another Ann Hui offering I did not enjoy viewing).

By the time MY AMERICAN GRANDSON's title character finally -- inevitably, for a film of this sort -- realizes the error of his ways and suddenly becomes much more nicely behaved, I seriously doubt that many of movie's audience would care anymore (about him, the movie, etc.).  Almost needless to say, this (re)viewer certainly didn't.  And frankly, it did not help at all that Ann Hui's preferred mode of presentation of events is an underdramatized one which seems to aim at being realistic but succeeds most at making matters more boring than they need to be.

For the record:  Carina Lau was the actress who I had looked forward to seeing in this 1991 production.  Although she is identified in "Hong Kong Babylon" as playing the mother of the irritant (a character who actually never appeared on screen in the movie), she actually is consigned to having the rather superfluous supporting role of the caring niece of the put upon old man.  In view of the dissatisfactory nature of the viewing experience I got from MY AMERICAN GRANDSON, I am inclined to surmise that the usually reliable Barry Long had sought -- with quite a degree of success! -- to erase much of this gratuitously tedious film from his memory as soon as he could!

My rating of the film:  4.