By ANGELA XU
During Chinese New Year, the lighthearted comedy film Hi, Mom was released and became a big hit at the box office in China, breaking records left and right. According to the Guardian, it has grossed about 723 million US dollars, becoming China’s highest-grossing film by a female director. Hi, Mom follows the story of a young woman by the name of Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling), trying to cope with her mother’s death. Miraculously, she travels back in time to the year 1981, when her mother, Li Huanying (Zhang Xiaofei), was still a teenager. Given this chance, Jia Xiaoling tries her best to do everything she can to make her mom happy and satisfied in this lifetime.
The film, directed by Jia Ling herself, is dedicated to her mother. In recent interviews, Ling shared how her mother passing away when she was 19 made her realize how the lack of motherly love can truly impact someone. As a result, the movie encapsulates a heartwarming theme on the importance of cherishing family through Ling’s personal story.
Throughout the film, the audience experiences a rollercoaster of emotions that builds up to a surprising plot twist. The set-up of comedic scenes is executed in a way that makes you almost forget that Hi, Mom is a debut direction. For instance, the hilarious antics of Jia Xiaoling trying to set up her mother with the factory manager’s son make for a smooth transition on to the mother-daughter’s next comical scene. Its humor in dialogue juxtaposed with its maternal theme about cherishing family are just some parts that make Hi, Mom stand out from others.
In addition, another one of the film’s prominent characteristics is the unique sequencing of the story. The film utilizes flashbacks to develop the relationship between Li Huanying and Jia Xiaoling in order to build up the big reveal near the end of the movie. Arguably, the dynamic between the two as parent-child and same-age friends is the best part of the film. It is undeniable that the two help each other grow as characters, with Jia Xiaoling accepting her mother’s death and Li Huanying growing to treasure youth as a teenager.
Despite its popularity, some critics argued that the film is lackluster in its approach by idealizing the out-dated role of a mother in which parents have to make personal sacrifices for their children to be happy. The “time-traveling” narrative, many complained, was nothing more than just emotional fulfillment.
While time-traveling is its own typical trope, the story focuses more on developing the mother-daughter dynamic, which arguably is the reason why it is so popular. Even if it was some sort of wish fulfillment by Ling, the positive reaction towards the film on its execution to showcase motherly love shows that the idea does not reflect with the majority.
Furthermore, much of the film’s immense praise is the groundbreaking message. In China, students are raised in a very competitive environment throughout their academic life. The National College Entrance Examination, commonly known as the Gaokao, is the most important test in China as it can make or break someone’s future. Younger audiences are constantly reminded to “repay” their family, while older audiences practice “tough love” to help their children achieve success in the future. In light of this cutthroat-like society, the film’s message is a breath of fresh air for many.
Overall, the dark horse of box office films has made its mark in China’s film industry. Regardless of its faults, it is undeniable that the film has touched the hearts of many through a touching message on tender motherly love.