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Soursweet (1988)

Courtesy of Channel Four

Main image of Soursweet (1988)
DirectorMike Newell
Production CompaniesZenith Productions, Film Four International, First Film Company, British Screen, Curzon Film Distributors
ProducerRoger Randall-Cutler
ScreenplayIan McEwan
Original novelTimothy Mo
Director of PhotographyMike Garfath

Sylvia Chang (Lily); Danny An-Ning Dun (Chen); Jodi Long (Mui); Speedy Choo (Man Kee); Soon-Teck Oh (Red Cudgel)

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A newly wed young Chinese couple arrive in England to start a new life together, but become embroiled with the Chinese triad underworld.

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Based on an acclaimed novel by Timothy Mo, scripted by Ian McEwan and directed by Mike Newell, Soursweet (1988) raised high hopes for a commercial successful British film which sensitively portrayed the immigration experience and challenged stereotypes of Chinese immigrants. However it was not well received by critics or public, perhaps because of its numerous conflicting sub-narratives.

The character of Lily (Sylvia Chang, a celebrated actress in East Asia), the focus of the novel, becomes diluted; where in the novel she is a strong Chinese woman adjusting to the challenges of a new environment, here she is merely an over-idealistic wife and unsuitable mother. Her passionate link to tradition and Chinese values, which stem from her father's martial arts upbringing, is lost. The only remnant of it can be found in a scene where she is teaching her young son to defend himself and to hide pain on his face; the scene suggests she is a poor mother for teaching her son to fight back. Chinese values are mocked when Lily is distressed to discover that her son played at school, where she expects him to work long and hard.

The film switches between scenes of family life and Chinese Triad (gang) life, suggesting a link between the two in their respect for elders. It also contrasts the different approaches of fellow immigrants Chen (Danny An-Ning Dun) and Fok (David K.S. Tse), who meet as waiters in a Chinese restaurant. Chen is a committed father trying to raise his young family by working hard and trying to stay true to his morals. Fok, however, is less passive, and seeks a fast route to financial success by aligning himself with the Triads, and ultimately exploiting them for his own ends - a betrayal for which the hapless Chen pays the price.

Pak Ling-Wan

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Video Clips
1. At the wedding (3:19)
2. Lily's ambitions (2:47)
3. Chen's dilemma (2:57)
4. Mu's pregnancy (3:33)
Production stills
Ping Pong (1986)
Gangsters (1976-78)
Audsley, Mick (1949-)
Newell, Mike (1942-)
British-Chinese Cinema
Channel 4 and Film