Sarah (Tan Qin Lin) in “The Kid from the Big Apple.” (Shaw Organisation)
Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.
Secret ending? No, but there are extra scenes in the credits.
Running time: 120 minutes (2 hours)
“The Kid from the Big Apple (我来自纽约)” is a Malaysian family drama about a girl raised in New York, Sarah, who is forced to live with her traditional Chinese grandfather, Chun Gen, in Malaysia. Despite their initial misgivings, the two eventually bond and learn what it means to be family. It stars Tommy Tam (Lin Chun Gen), Tan Qin Lin (Sarah Lin), Jason Tan (Zhang Jia Bao), Ling Tang (Aunty Ming), Kelvin Leong (Uncle Ming), Lenna Lim (Ivy), and Jessica Hester Huan (Sophia Lin).
“The Kid from the Big Apple (我来自纽约)” is a humble, unassuming film that will bring you to tears as you identify with the pain and joy that comes with being part of a family. Set in an idyllic village not too far from our country, it explores the fears and hopes of a family spanning three generations, even as they learn to live with one another again. It’s a skilfully woven family drama that showcases excellent storytelling and powerful character development.
Sarah in the rain in “The Kid from the Big Apple.” (Shaw Organisation)
Themes of heritage and modernisation
Sarah and her grandfather, Chun Gen, represent the opposites of heritage and modernisation. Their struggle to understand each other mirrors society’s struggle to find a balance between the two, and the importance of either end of the spectrum. Sarah’s modern outlook is incomplete without her knowing her roots, just as Chun Gen’s wisdom is ineffective if he doesn’t adapt to modern circumstances. Yet the difficulty in meeting halfway is reflected in Sarah’s isolation from familiar surroundings and her grandfather’s inability to understand her. Grounding these themes in human characters is what creates an in-depth exploration of these issues.
Tan Qin Lin’s performance as Sarah
Despite being only a fraction of Tommy Tam’s age, Tan Qin Lin holds her own by delivering an equally riveting performance as the strong-willed but vulnerable Sarah. But when it finally comes down for her to reveal just how much this new family means to her, it’s a tearjerking performance that will leave you heartbroken. Her range, depth and subtlety are incredibly impressive, as she takes you through the simple joys of the discovery of a family she never knew.
Strong familial relationships
The strong relationships are what make up the core of the film, bolstered by a stellar cast. They portray the yearning for closeness with such poignant detail, that is unfortunately stymied by the Asian family mentality. Yet it’s this very mentality that acts as the foundation for family, both for Sarah and Jia Bao. Sophia and Chun Gen’s relationship is perhaps the most moving of them all, as their mutual stubbornness masks their own fears of rejection. We connect with the familial bonds portrayed, simply because they hit so close to home.
The beauty of a simple childhood
Perhaps the most subtle of the messages in the film is the fact that a good childhood isn’t made up of gadgets and toys, but of friendship and play. Sarah’s Westernised childhood is all about the latest fads and trends, and she only really learns to be a child when she makes friends without the use of technology. It may be a romanticised view of an era long gone, but its truths still ring deep.
Lin Chun Gen (Tommy Tam) in “The Kid from the Big Apple.” (Shaw Organisation)
Songs feel out of place
The songs and montages that follow suit are awkwardly placed and don’t fit the style of the movie. Even though it happens multiple times, you still don’t get used to this technique. It breaks the momentum of the film and in some cases, it even diminishes the emotions that have been built up. Perhaps a less intrusive insertion of music would have helped?
Grandpa in “The Kid from the Big Apple.” (Shaw Organisation)
“The Kid from the Big Apple (我来自纽约)” is one of the best films this year. At its heart, it’s a touching story of family and forgiveness, and what’s important in life.
Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.
Should you buy the DVD? Yes, especially so if it comes with extended scenes that were shown in the credits.
“The Kid from the Big Apple (我来自纽约)” opens in cinemas 10 March, 2016 (Thursday).