Mo’ money mo’ problems. This seems to be the moral of the story in Doris Yeung’s directorial debut, Motherland, a tale of an immigrant family’s destruction from chasing the American Dream.
Inspired by the real life murder of Yeung’s mother, the film opens with Raffi Tang (Francoise Yip) returning home to San Francisco after her mother was killed in an apparent robbery. Estranged from her mother due to her mother’s disapproval of her same-sex relationship, Raffi had been living in self-imposed exile in Mexico.
Upon arriving home, Raffi becomes entangled in a web of deceit woven by her stepfather (Kenneth Tsang), a person of interest in the murder, and a mysterious family friend (Byron Mann). Raffi’s wealthy mother and stepfather had been embroiled in a contentious and expensive five year long battle over marital assets. Over time, Raffi suspects that the murder was a professional hit ordered by her stepfather. Heavy, heavy, stuff. Shady attorneys, the incompetent police investigation, suspicion over the motives of her stepfather and guilt over cutting ties with her mother eventually take its toll, culminating in an explosive, if melodramatic, climax.
Hong Kong film staple Tsang delivers a solid performance as the ostensibly sincere yet scheming patriarch, and Francoise Yip, usually seen playing bad girls in action films such as Romeo Must Die and Rumble in the Bronx, performs beautifully in her first dramatic role.
While some viewers may be put off by the emotional disconnect exhibited by the characters considering the circumstances, from the view of someone who grew up in an Asian American family where displaying a wide range of emotions was a foreign concept, the long periods of stoicism and wooden awkwardness punctuated by brief periods of histrionics seem on point and believable.