All the family's business

Family Inc. (Unbound Feet Production, 2008)

Emily Ting (director) left her full-time film-making career in New York to fulfill her family obligation to help run the family toy business in Hong Kong. Emily is originally only staying for two years to make her dad happy; but a plunge the company took made Emily reconsiders her decision and ultimately decides to stay at her new job. Warm, personal, and emotionally truthful, Family Inc. is a delightful documentary for those who are caught between the old and new Asian generation.

The film opens like a home movie as Emily unveils her four closets at her new penthouse in Hong Kong and introduces where she is coming from. Most of the first half is about her dad, his character and his company. Emily uses the camera to capture insightful and telling details which reveal a truthful side to her family and the company. The theme "family" resonates throughout the film as she interviews her own family and various workers in the factory in China who all work because they have to provide for their families. Some even only get to see their kids twice or three times a year. The workers' value of putting their family first coincides with Emily's "duty" of working in the family business.

Another side of the film depicts the lives of Chinese workers and people. Emily gains full access to the company's factory in China and shows the process of toy-making and insights of the business such as workers giving an equivalent of $600 "tips" (bribe) to the government auditing crew. An instance that illustrates the social gap between Hong Kong and mainland China is when the entourage is on the road, Helen (camera girl) catches a man in suit who is peeing on the pedestrian. "Welcome to China!" Emily said, and to her fiance (now husband), "That's why we're not raising our kids in China. They might start peeing on the sidewalk."

Emily slowly develops her characters, especially her dad, to reveal their character. Charles Ting (her dad) has been in business for over 30-years. He operates a multi-million toy company, with an ambition that cost him two wives. (His third is still with him, probably because she's as ambitious as he is.) Emily captures various sides of her dad and doesn't leave a telling detail or telling dialog out, like when he tells his colleague, "I don't care how much you paid me. I care about how much you owe me." Or when he ruthlessly bashes his other daughter's (Emily's step-sister) "pointless, stupid" fashion-design studies at Central St. Martin's, London (just as he has when Emily was still in NYU studying film.) Emily achieves the balance between showing and telling what she feels and also objective observations she saw.

In a way Family Inc. is also a social commentary on the old Asian value versus the new. The old generation (Emily's dad) thinks its their job to pass on a successful job to their offspring so they too will have a good life. The psychic that Emily sees at the end tells Emily, according to her palm, "because you will have a lot of money, you will have a happy life." The good old Asian thinking, "Welcome to Hong Kong!" as Emily says, skeptical about the correlation between money and happiness.

At the end of the film Emily concludes, "Most Asian parents focus more on supporting their family rather than being supportive of their family." Her documentary is a heartfelt journey from where she started and how she ended up at where her family has taken her.





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