Home » Expats

“The Farewell,” writer-director Lulu Wang’s feature debut, and her subsequent Prime Video follow-up “Expats”, are both about grief, womanhood, and geographical dislocation that is experiencing loss far from one’s home. In this case, it takes the form of a sprawling behemoth of a series that encompasses six episodes and six-plus hours of weeping, unyielding sorrow. It’s a powerful but harrowing watch, an exercise in prestige-drama misery that’s best absorbed in small doses.

Her novel “Expatriates” (2016), like the source material Yasmin Y.K. Lee uses in her 2014 film set on Hong Kong expat community with rich backgrounds is what inspired “Expats”. The impact of an apocalyptic family tragedy on their lives and three women who had to undergo dramatic changes as a result build up the story line for this serial. Architect-cum-housewife Margaret (Nicole Kidman) is one haunted throughout her days by the year-long disappearance of her youngest boy while she looks out for any sign that he might still be alive. Hilary (Sarayu Blue), Mercy’s good friend next door and fellow Indian-American ex-pat has issues with infidelity and impotency in relation to her relationship with her husband (Jack Huston). Then there is Mercy (Ji-young Yoo), a twenty-something Korean-American eking out a living through various jobs she can find in Hong Kong whose impulsive decisions lead to tragedy for Margaret as well as Hilary.

Wang hides the specificities of that tragedy from us in the show’s first two episodes: picking up a year after the incident, all we know is hidden in Kidman’s dazed, autopilot shuffling through her life, the panic she feels when she thinks she sees a familiar face amid a group of identically-dressed caterers. On the day that is also the anniversary of their son’s disappearance, a dark cloud hangs over the birthday bash of her husband (Brian Tee). We don’t know what happened exactly until the end of episode 2—a flashback to the day in question—and why Mercy might feel some blame.

However, there is little humor in “Expats,” unlike its predecessor “The Farewell” where it managed to lighten up such heavy circumstances with a lot of humorous moments. All four main characters are burdened with expectations of wealth and womanhood as they bear the weight of the world on their shoulders. Margaret is too dazed and obsessed with her loss to be a good mother to her children; Hilary’s pursuit of childless independence creates a barrier between herself and her spouse. Young Mercy still hasn’t grown up yet because she doesn’t know who she is or what she wants yet. Starved for purpose, she feels crushed by guilt over what she has done.

Kidman takes centre stage in three heartbreaking performances as Margaret’s resolute brittleness finds its way through Kidman’s unbreakable facade. Her grief barely under wraps, Grace from “Others” could almost be described as Margaret’s relative . However, her son’s disappearance has shattered something deep within her that can never be fully repaired. As great an actor as Kidman may be, though, Blue’s biting cynicism as Hilary—lashing out against Indian traditions—may come as somewhat unexpected; whereas Yoo embodies Mercy –the free-spirited wingwoman who pursues outsized ambitions between classes at university or any other work opportunities that make themselves available. Kidman may have mastered these roles before but for both Blue and Yoo ‘Expats’ made them shine: a reliable supporting actress over many years and one new star on showbiz horizon.

However, what distinguishes “Expats” from the numerous other prestige streaming dramas about death (seriously, there are so many) is its immense trove of cultural particularity which is cleverly demonstrated by Wang. Getting closer and closer, Anna Franquesa-Solano’s deep-dive inquiring lens gets a hold of Hong Kong’s night markets for the common people as well as the detached and disorienting exclusivity of wealthy expatriates. It is a world of opulent parties interwoven with tight-knit rich people, all grappling with their guilt over Western imperialism when it comes to housemaids, cooks and babysitters that Hilary calls “helpers”. Upscale restaurants don’t mix well with still blossoming pro-democracy demonstrations by Umbrella Movement first brought to us through TV news only but later on referenced explicitly by Mercy who goes out with a South Korean girl.

That divide between the haves and have-nots is never more clearly articulated than in “Expats”’ fifth episode, a 96-minute detour into the lives of the servants we’ve seen largely in the background. Mainly composed of women from the Philippines, these characters who before were only shown doing some work off screen finally get their say here as they enjoy their day-off discussing about other matters besides work. “We know everything about these people, things their closest friends don’t even know,” says one.

This focus makes sense: they’re expatriates, too, after all. Ruby Ruiz plays Essie who is Margaret’s nanny that is caught between her commitment to her mourning bosses and her family back home in Philippines pressuring her to retire. When she breaks up with her husband now Hilary’s maid Puri has become a therapist for hire at home. Honestly speaking however this show feels like overkill; instead it could have been just this – a feature-length movie about these working-class women pushing the envelope between kin and servant.

Nonetheless, this is an extremely rich drama series that one can get lost in for a whole day if care is not taken because it has a slow-paced narrative style and sense of gloom. “Expats” ought to be viewed weekly as Amazon plans for its release. It is a complex, difficult story which holds immense possibilities but does not provide any stable ground on which these are built. In other words, the liminal space of the expatriate.

Watch free movies on Fmovies

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top