Review: All In My Family

This is a very entertaining short documentary that I found quite by accident on Netflix (they do have some good non-fiction viewing I must say).

It tells the story of a chinese man – Wu Hao – who, in his 20’s, left for America to escape his family (he does love them) and conformist chinese society so he could live his life the way he wanted to. He became a documentary filmmaker and made a success of himself.  

So why make the film?

Well he also happens to be gay, something that appears to be quite rare in chinese society. In the US he can live openly where as in China it would not be that simple a matter. (Please note: I don’t have a wealth of knowledge about this topic so I am only speaking to my impressions of the content of the film). It is part of his life that his father and especially his mother (quite a forceful and strong minded woman) find it hard to understand and accept. He is the only male grandchild and is therefore expected to marry and have his own children. Whenever he returns to China to work, he is bombarded with the inevitable questions concerning a wife and offspring.

He does eventually make his mother and father grandparents again (his sister has kids), though obviously not with a wife or girlfriend but with his male partner via surrogate’s – yes plural. They decide to have two children, not as a set of twins but individually via two separate women and egg donors.

It took me a minute to get my head around it too.

This is earth shattering for his family. They really don’t know what to make of it all. They are not angry, just bemused and shocked I think.

One of the major topics of the piece is whether to tell Wu Huo’s 90 year old grandfather the truth about his sexuality and the true nature of his family situation. They – Wu Hao, his American partner Eric and their two kids – travel back to China for Chinese New Year and struggle through large family gatherings with everyone debating the issue, all the while keeping dear old Grandpa in the dark. It’s quite funny and tense all at the same time especially when Eric arrives to join them. I think he is explained as a ‘colleague and close friend’. Although interestingly Grandpa stops asking after the children’s mother when he meets Eric. Maybe he does realise after all and just doesn’t make a big deal out of it.

I did get quite involved. At one point I was yelling at the screen … just tell him already! But of course it isn’t that simple.

I really enjoyed watching this. It’s only 40 mins but I think deserved to be twice as long as that would have meant we could look into the lives of the family in more depth. It was already multi layered but could have been more intricate with extra time taken. I found it just so interesting and wanted more detail about everyone, the events that were occuring and the conflicting points of view.

On screen the differences in the western and eastern perspectives and values was stark. Wu Hao’s parents were very honest in their on camera interviews, explaining their point of view. I have no doubt that they love him, they are just from a different generation which values different things. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a natural part of life and the passage of time. Eric – Wu Hao’s partner – understands, saying at one point that it’s just part of being in a family. 

The dynamics are fascinating.

Spoiler: Wu Hao’s mother actually likes Eric quite a bit.

Yet Another Spoiler: Technically Grandpa doesn’t know the truth by the end of the film … well Wu Hao hasn’t told him the truth. What he actually knows is up for debate.

I really recommend this short documentary if you want a glimpse of different generations trying to understand and cope with a changing world.

Rating: 4 stars

Watched: 11 August 2019

(Header Image: Skitterphoto)

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