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Song of the Exile is a film that Ann Hui has wanted to make for years, a panoramic account of a troubled mother-daughter relationship that spans some twenty-five years. It is inspired by Hui's own life story, and deeply rooted in the events that have shaped East Asian history since the end of the Pacific war.

The film opens in the late 1960's. Cheung Hue-Yin (played wonderfully by Maggie Cheung) graduates from a college in England and returns home to Hong Kong - to confront her widowed mother. They have been at emotional odds for as long as Hue-Yin can remember. The problem is that the mother is Japanese, and Hue-Yin, (raised largely by her grandparents, who disapproved of and despised their son's wife) considers herself wholly Chinese.

Only when Hue-Yin accompanies her mother to Japan, and finds herself the outsider, baffled by the language, the customs and the attitudes, does she begin to understand what her mother went through as a Japanese woman in a Chinese family after the war.

The film examines the notion of "exile" from several different perspectives, using its central characters (and flashbacks to their respective pasts) as keys to a larger meditation on the future prospects for China and the Chinese. The complications are explored (and ultimately exorcised) in moving and intelligent scenes that throw light on areas long and dark. Overall this is Ann Hui's strongest and most searching film since Boat People. (T.R.)