Film review: The Kid from the Big Apple – girl bonds with Chinese grandfather in syrupy tale

Malaysian box office hit should translate well to other Chinese-speaking territories thanks to heartfelt turns from its two leads

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 10:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2016, 10:17am

3/5 stars

A little girl born and raised in New York bonds with her conservative grandfather in his Kuala Lumpur home in this family drama, whose unapologetically maudlin story may yet resonate with audiences in the right frame of mind. The feature debut of writer-director Jess Teong, this surprise blockbuster at the Malaysian box office should also travel well to other Chinese-speaking territories with its tender if oversimplified depiction of the diasporic experience.

Before her fashion designer mother Sophie (Jessica Hsuan) takes on a months-long project in Chongqing, China, the 11-year-old Sarah (Tan Qin-lin) is sent to Malaysia and put under the care of the grandfather (Ti Lung, credited as Tommy Tam) she’s never met. As the reluctant Sarah initially makes it a point to speak only in English, alienating herself from almost everyone along the way, the culture shock of living in a modest Chinese community only turns her into a cranky shell of herself.

But this movie is really less interested in conflicts than it is the feel-good, and ultimately cathartic, reconciliation process. As the Westernised Sarah slowly warms to the traditional ways of her grandfather – a former martial arts expert who’s still working as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner – it is her single mother’s once-testy relationship with grandpa that will provide the film’s emotional kicker: it transpires that the two haven’t spoken since she moved to the US in 2004.

Teong’s fish-out-of-water comedy looks to derive as many heart-warming moments from the narrowing intergenerational divide – Sarah learns to have fun outside the digital world; grandpa picks up his first smartphone to communicate with the family – as it does from Sarah’s budding friendships with her neighbours. With heartfelt performances by both Ti and Tan, this poignant family reunion movie will delight its less sceptical viewers.

The Kid from the Big Apple opens on April 21

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