MY LIFE IN CHINA
Directed by Kenneth Eng
In 1966, Kenneth Eng’s father defected from China by swimming to Macau. He then ferried illegally to Hong Kong and ultimately arrived in the U.S., where he had two sons. It’s a story of migration that’s not unusual in accounts of the Asian American experience or in celebrations of the American dream. What makes MY LIFE IN CHINA so fascinating and timely is that it begins with the epilogue to this familiar tale. While well-educated in China, Kenneth’s dad ended up cooking Chinese fast food in Boston. His wife was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. America became a nightmare. He had escaped China once for a better life. 40 years later, could he escape back?
A documentarian, Kenneth follows his father as he traces his steps back on a visit to China. He captures the spunk in his father’s smile as he recognizes old neighborhoods in Hong Kong, and as he excitedly points out his old escape route into Macau. The documentary moves briskly and the years accelerate backward until father and son arrive at the beginning, where the answer to his father’s questions no longer look so simple.
MY LIFE IN CHINA is a powerful and deeply personal take on the seeming arbitrariness that is migration, nation, and a life defined by economic potential. Here, the much ballyhooed “China dream” mirrors the American one, and for the sojourner stuck in between, it’s just as tempting and illusory. Whereas many Asian American films have chronicled a return to roots, MY LIFE IN CHINA is about roots severed and branches that could have been. The unspoken but critical presence through it all is American-bred Kenneth himself, a product of multiple migrations and the branch that simply is, regrets or not. –Brian Hu