MADE IN CHINA Weaves a Modern, Heartfelt Tale Set in Cosmopolitan Paris
François, a young French-Chinese photographer, hasn’t set foot in Paris’ Chinatown or even talked to his father Meng since their violent dispute 10 years ago. He’s turned the page. He avoids all questions about his origins, and even pretends he was adopted…until the day he learns he is going to be a father.
Director: Julien Abraham
Cast: Frédéric Chau, Medi Sadoun, Julie De Bona, Steve Tran, Bing Yin, Mylène Jampanoï,
Language: French, Mandarin
Runtime: 87 minutes
Made In China has good intentions. With xenophobia on the rise throughout the world, films like these are necessary in humanising immigrants or refugees that are of diverse backgrounds and cultures. Through the lens of a second generation immigrant, Made In China elects to focus on cultural identity, and what it means to be French within Paris’ cosmopolitan society.
The film follows photographer François (Frédéric Chau), a Chinese born and raised in France, as his fiancée, Sophie (Julie De Bona) breaks the news that she is pregnant with their child. This pushes François to reconnect with his estranged family and to rebuild his frayed relationship with his father, Meng (Bing Yin).
Constantly driving the plot forward is the tension between father and son. Ten years ago, a particularly eventful shouting match causes François to storm out of the family home. In the present, he returns to find the coldest of shoulders. Both Chau and Yin – together with smart camera work – do an excellent job with conveying the palpable distance between the two characters, with a deep sense of history draping every scene they share.
Yin’s performance, in particular, stood out for me, nailing the nuances of a hard-headed father progressively accepting his son’s choices. With most of the narrative and script focused on François, Chau was no slouch either. Considered as the first Asian-French stand-up comedian, his comedic chops are showcased early in the film, before effortlessly pivoting into drama to match the intensity of its narrative. With the plot detailing the months before the birth of François’ daughter, the entire film also signified the rebirth of the relationship between father and son.
Made In China, however, falters somewhat in the details of its narrative. While its camera work, lively set design, and sound design beautifully showcase the melding of Chinese culture in Paris, the film’s script has a habit of tapping into age-old cliches of the Chinese for laughs.
Following François in his journey back home to one of Paris’ Chinatown is his bumbling best friend, Bruno (Medi Sadoun), who serves as the comedic relief and the audience’s proxy into this fascinating world. Yet problematically, the way he starts to understand this foreign culture comes from cracking insensitive jokes such as with if dog meat is being served in a Chinese dinner; it is perhaps ironic that the only caricatures in this film are of the French being this ignorant.
Through no fault of Sadoun’s acting, Bruno was not an enjoyable character. His childish behaviour and cracks did not come off as endearing, instead, bordering on obnoxious. This was an issue for the film’s tone and pace when he plays a central role in its first half.
Contrasting Bruno are a slew of interesting characters, such as François’ flamboyant cousin Félix (Steve Tran) and his sultry childhood friend Lisa (Mylène Jampanoï). While the film’s focus on the father and son relationship is engaging enough, I would have wanted to see its side characters develop and grow especially when they were never given the opportunity to.
Made In China is a fascinating look into a Chinese community in Paris, embracing the strength of familial love and celebrating one’s culture in a cosmopolitan city. Beneath its spotty humour lies a well-executed, universally relatable story of a man returning home – both physically and spiritually. Made In China could perhaps be best summed up by the French saying: home is where your feet may leave, but not your heart.
Check out the film’s trailer here:
About French Film Festival
Back for its 35th edition, the French Film Festival returns as part of Voilah! France Singapore Festival, with an exciting lineup of 27 latest feature films and classics from 4 to 17 November 2019. The annual festival – the longest-running foreign film festival in Singapore – celebrates French storytelling through various genres including comedy, romance, drama and a newly introduced sexy section that will be sure to delight and captivate the audience.
Opening the festival this year is Made in China, screening on 5 November, 7pm, at the Alliance Française. Frédéric Chau, who portrays François in the film, will be making an appearance at the launch of the festival alongside his co-star, Steve Tran, who plays his cousin in the movie.
For more information, check out its official website here.