Director Kenneth Eng‘s father would often tell him and his brother the story of how he walked for seven days and six nights before swimming for four hours to escape poverty and Communism. In 2007, Eng accompanied his father on a visit to rural China for the first time in 18 years to retrace the perilous steps his father chanced in search of a better life. Eng’s father reflects, “In 1966, everyone wanted to go to the U.S. People were starving.” His father was one of thousands to make the journey.
Despite being educated, the only work Eng’s father could secure in the U.S. was in fast-food Chinese restaurants. Although he eventually worked his way to owning a restaurant, his accomplishment was short-lived when the business shuttered due to bankruptcy. Most days, Eng’s father cares for his wife who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Believing he failed in his goal of attaining the American dream, Eng’s father earnestly considers a move back to China.
My Life in China explores the universal themes of home, exile and belonging, as well as contrasting the elusive American dream with life in modern China and the emerging Chinese dream. Conflicting and heart-wrenching emotions come to the fore as memories from the past collide with the present. With his father, Eng not only witnesses but participates in ritual and shared meals, connecting him to tradition, ancestry and family bonds shaping his identity.
As a result of the documentary process, intensified by his father’s deep love and quiet strength, Eng finds his true self revealed through the camera lens. Poignant and life affirming, the film is a universal story about promise, purpose and living life without regrets.
We visit various family members who stayed through communism that are now part of the “new middle class”.