REVIEWS

HOMELESS 小白船 Quietly Contemplates the Strength of Brotherhood and the Hopes of Children

5 November 2019

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HOMELESS 小白船 Quietly Contemplates the Strength of Brotherhood and the Hopes of Children

In 1995 Malaysia, Lily faces the burden of her husband’s funeral. In addition to working in the rubber plantations, she has to deal with home affairs and needs to take care of two children, Xiao Xiong and Xiao Feng. Under all kinds of burdens, Lily has to make a decision that will change her family forever.

Director: Bennial Soo

Cast: Chong Xian Chuah, Bryan Matthew Jalleh, Feon Lai

Year: 2018

Country: Taiwan

Language: Mandarin

Runtime: 21 minutes


The children’s song “Little White Boat” that makes up the Chinese title of Homeless becomes a musical refrain that conveys the little joys and hopes of a pair of brothers. Beginning with Xiao Xiong (Bryan Matthew Jalleh) and Xiao Feng (Chong Xian Chuah) playing in blissful ignorance of their widowed mother’s struggling finances, Homeless chooses to indulge in the happy playtimes of the close brothers. And when their mother Lily (Feon Lai) has to make a difficult decision after realising that she is unable to continue supporting the family on her own, the happy memories that the brothers share threaten to fall apart. 

With not much dialogue, Homeless is a quiet film that captures the suppressed cries of a helpless mother and the inner conflict of Xiao Feng who realises that his childhood companion may be gone for good. The different variations of the “Little White Boat” song that accompanies the bulk of the film, either through the soft melody that plays in the background or the loud combined voices of the brothers singing, serve as apt stand-ins to express the feelings of the characters who find themselves unable to express them.

From Lily exhausting every means to support her family to the people around her who extend their help without a second thought, Homeless is determined to show a story with no villains. The tight circumstances that leave her struggling to make ends meet puts her in a sympathetic light, especially with the film’s intriguing choice of a square frame that emphasises the family being trapped by their conditions. 

Homeless also relies heavily on the brothers’ camaraderie and close ties, which Chong Xian Chuah and Bryan Matthew Jalleh succeed in delivering. As Kor (older brother) and Di (younger brother), the actors receive a lot of screen time together, and their happy laughs and mock fights manage to bring the youthful essence of childhood into their scenes. Emotional scenes are less effective, but with the children characters finding it hard to comprehend their sudden separation, the actors put up a commendable act conveying the same loss and confusion. 

Set in 1995, Homeless is also a nostalgic trip down memory lane, with the entire film awash in a romantic filter that gives it its dream-like quality. From the many relatives and friends who have extended their help to the close relationship between Xiao Feng and Xiao Xiong, the film portrays communal ties in a wistful light. Regardless of the circumstances, it is the ties amongst people that will see one through difficult times. 

Watch the trailer here:

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