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The Sounds of Home Away

It’s often the prevalent but peripheral stimuli which allow us to be transported to a different place or time; that old song from high school, the smell of your grandmother’s cooking, etc.. Sound editor and sound designer Peiqi (aka Peggy) Duan has made a career of this in using her heightened sense and skills for creating auditory settings in film. For Home Away, she has wrapped the visual story in a sonic world which delivers us to the bustling cities of China to witness a father/son relationship at a tragic moment. Director Xiang Xu, under contract with China’s biggest entertainment company Tencent, enlisted Duan as a fan of her work on the films Moscow Nights and Father’s Studio. Starring award-winning Taiwanese actor Jack Kao as the father, this China/Taiwan release received massive critical acclaim for its talent in front of and behind the camera.

In Home Away, Xiang Xu has created a film about one man but which also portrays the feelings of so many in today’s world. The self-doubt of choices we’ve made, the validity of our own life, and our responsibility to our family; these are concerns we all face, ones which are depicted in the story of this film’s main character Li Fan. At thirty years-old, Li finds himself still struggling to be a successful scriptwriter in Beijing. He left everything behind in his small hometown years ago and still has not established himself professionally or financially. Li receives a call from his ex-girlfriend whom he hasn’t spoken to in years. She informs him that his father (played by famous Taiwanese Actor Jack Kao, known for his work with in Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s films as well as with Jackie Chan) is gravely ill. As he makes the long train trip across the desolate wilderness of the northern winter, Li ponders whether facing his creative dream was well conceived. Upon arriving in his hometown in South Fujian, he finds it decaying in the same manner as his own father. Not until months after his father’s death does Li discovers a connection unspoken.

In many ways this story communicates an authentic perspective to a section of young people in China. This mood is inseparable from the sounds of massive cities like Beijing. The creators of Home Away procured Peggy Duan to personify the juxtaposed city and small town as living characters in the story. Accepted without question by many but remarkably authentic to audiences actually from China, these sounds give deep roots to the film’s setting. Peggy describes, “I’m from China. When you originate from a certain area, you have insight to the sounds that are just as much a part of being in a location as the architecture or the weather. These cues instantly transport you to an emotional state. Many locations of this films are seedy streets, small and old restaurants, and even a Karaoke place. Fan is back from Beijing, to his small old hometown. To make this contrast more stark, I added sounds from my old memories like ice-cream cars, an old Japanese gashapon machine, weird Chinese songs playing from a bad but extremely loud speaker, and junior school sounds like basketballs and children reading articles. Many of these sounds were off-frame. Even though you cannot see the props I added, hearing them establishes the old hometown via sound magic.”

Perhaps the most moving scene in this film is not a result of any technical wizardry but rather of subtle emotional emphasis. Through their daily conversations, Li Fan and his father discuss mundane topics as well as life and love. When the son states that he has decided not return to Beijing, the father encourages him to chase his dream rather than abandon it. They drive away from a visit to the sea one day while listening to an old Japanese song “Subaru” (performance by Shinji Tanimura). As the father begins singing along, the low-fi audio heard emanating from the car’s stereo becomes non-diegetic (fuller and presented as part of the actual soundtrack). As the father silently cries, this is the catalyst for the viewer’s emotional release as well. Home Away warns us to not to leave important things unsaid and deeds undone. This emotional apex of the story is the result of subtle decisions by consummate artists.

Written by Kelly King

The Sounds of Home Away Reviewed by JaamZIN on 3:06:00 PM Rating: 5
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