Private Project


Between faded family photographs, old video footage, and interviews collected through the years, Alvin Tsang’s REUNIFICATION bears the look and feel of a documentary that’s taken decades to produce. Perhaps it required all that time for Tsang to fully process his family’s history and confront his own emotionally turbulent upbringing. For the audience though, that passing of time is key to the film’s powerful portrayal of tireless emotional reconciliation.

When his mother and two siblings first immigrated from Hong Kong to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, six-year-old Alvin was forced to stay behind with his working, and consequently absent, father. Spending the following three years often alone in an empty apartment, he longed for his family’s reunification. However, upon Alvin and his father’s arrival to America, that dream was utterly and permanently shattered under circumstances the filmmaker has yet to fully comprehend to this day.

REUNIFICATION is Tsang’s poetic and self-reflexive exploration of many unresolved years – poetic in its wonderfully-articulated narration and in its restraint as he grasps for any semblance of explanation. Backed by an achingly beautiful score, the film moves moodily across different channels and modes, bending into labor histories and Hong Kong’s colonial trajectories, wading in the mire of nostalgia, grief, and confusion that is his past. And in his search for answers, Tsang turns the camera on his own family, cautiously prodding for answers, but fully acknowledging that the only closure he can get will be from deciding for himself how to move on. –Brandon Yu

  • Alvin Tsang
  • Alvin Tsang
  • Alvin Tsang
  • Alvin Tsang
    Key Cast
  • Gordon Tsang
    Key Cast
  • Mimi Tsang
    Key Cast
  • Andy Tsang
    Key Cast
  • Annie Leung
    Key Cast
  • David Leung
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Family drama, Personal Narrative, Memoir, Immigrant experience, Asian American
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 25 minutes 21 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 1, 2015
  • Production Budget:
    40,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Hong Kong, United States
  • Language:
    Chinese, English
  • Shooting Format:
    DV, Hi8, HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White and Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • San Diego Asian Film Festival
    San Diego, CA
    November 7, 2015
    World Premiere
    Special Jury Prize
  • Hong Kong Pineapple Underground Film Festival
    Hong Kong
    December 5, 2015
    Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong Independent Film Festival
    Hong Kong
    January 31, 2016
  • Queens World Film Festival
    Queens, New York
    March 17, 2016
    New York/East Coast
  • DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival
    Washington, DC
    April 23, 2016
  • Hong Kong Contemporary Film Festival NYC
    New York City
    April 24, 2016
Director Biography - Alvin Tsang

Alvin Tsang is a graduate of University of California, San Diego’s Visual Arts (Media) department where he also began his film career as an editing assistant for THAT’S MY FACE (2001), an award- winning film by Thomas Allen Harris (director, THROUGH A LENS DARKLY) exploring the mythical African “face” found in Brazil, East Africa and the U.S. Tsang edited Josiah Lee’s HANDLING THE A.M. (2006), a short film about the absurdity and falsity of Asian American stereotypes, and Robert E. Holley’s HIV/AIDS awareness film, LOVE ME THROUGH IT (2008). He served as co-producer and assistant editor for Ermena Vinluan’s award- winning documentary, TEA & JUSTICE (2007), about the first female Asian-American NYPD officers on the force. Also co- produced with Vinluan, Tsang shot and edited a documentary short profiling legendary independent director John Sayles’s making of his film AMIGO (2010) about the Philippine-American War. He serves as a video documentarian for the pioneering composer-singer-choreographer-filmmaker Meredith Monk and has created promos for several Michael Kors’s fashion collections. Tsang’s other films include the shorts FISH (2010) and PRESERVATION (2011). REUNIFICATION (2015) is his first feature.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

Moving out of my mother and stepfather’s house in Los Angeles to go to college was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life.

While I was studying filmmaking in the University of California, San Diego over 15 years ago, I was inspired by several professors there such as Thomas Allen Harris, Babette Mangolte (seasoned DP for Chantal Akerman), and J.P. Gorin (directed “Tout Va Bien” with Jean-Luc Godard). Professors Mangolte and Gorin, both old-school French filmmakers, pragmatically focused their teachings on narrative criticism with the utmost intensity by introducing me to European and Japanese filmmaking of the past (Eisenstein, Bresson, Kurosawa, among others). Of course, being new to the art of filmmaking at the time and having been unknowingly brainwashed by the Hollywood and Hong Kong movie business (notice I didn’t say cinema) since I was born, it was extremely difficult for me to absorb most of the ideas that they so passionately shared. In other words, I wasn’t ready for their teachings in those days and was only able to absorb very little. Professor Harris, at the time, has already made a personal film about his family and was in the middle of making another personal film about the African American diaspora in Brazil. I found myself drawn in by his passion in making documentary films about his own family and as a result he was being removed from the situation in order to understand it better. Not that this exploratory aspect was any new idea in documentary filmmaking, but it appealed to my taste and I was soon unconsciously traveling on that path.

On a personal level, while in college and even after I’ve graduated, I have always felt as if I didn’t belong wherever I went. Being an Asian in America and learning to assimilate in my environment was only half the battle. I have always felt that my upbringing in a strict and dysfunctional household contributed a big part to this sense of inferiority. My mother didn’t have much of a point of view while my stepfather was an emotionally distant and controlling person. My father wasn’t able to do much to make things better for me and my siblings. Throughout our teenage years, my brother, sister and I often argued with my stepfather over his controlling and unreasonably strict parenting. In a few instances and at its worst, our heated arguments led to a slap in the face, or the one topic that has always left a wound in our hearts - our parents’ divorce. I remember once I pointed my fingers at my stepfather and screamed, “you stole our mom and backstabbed our dad!” As we became adults and got into colleges, we were glad and relieved when we left their house. Our stepfather’s sharp words didn’t matter to us anymore. Things got better from there, but only after things got even worse. For me, while being on my own in college, I found myself confronting a sense of withdrawal from this past and its traumas – I became depressed, had anxiety attacks, and afraid of the future. But having luckily gained some filmmaking guidance and inspiration that I have explained earlier, and the need to see this experience from a distance and relate to it, I was able to deal with the past. I didn’t know that at the beginning of shooting because I just wanted to express something, but in hindsight, that was the primary reason for making REUNIFICATION.

REUNIFICATION took on and off about 15 years to make (but more like 4 intense years). It is a film that requires a long simmering period of time. Since I wasn’t a writer but more of a visual person, I naturally allowed the visual to precede text. I decided to film many scenes that I have strong feelings about regardless of knowing how they will be put together as a whole later on. If the reason for filming a scene was that I felt depressed while living with my father, or that I was just trying to experiment with camera lighting and digital effects, or that I merely wanted to capture some home footage of my newborn niece at the hospital, so be it. Instead of following the traditional workflow of a film production – first write a screenplay and script, then make a storyboard, and then shoot and edit, my workflow was the opposite. Working backwards by first shooting and simultaneously editing the scenes, while writing a script and creating narrations, then finally organically realizing the story, was very painstakingly frustrating. For most of the time, I feel as if I was searching alone in the dark for something tangible. I felt that no one can help me. It was a big clunky puzzle where some parts fit, while others didn’t. Every step was trial and error. There were about ten rough cuts made with various titles. The first few versions went into twenty different directions without any focus. But eventually with each version, the film became more and more focused. Because I was never involved in any professional film production, and the fact that this is an exploratory film – both in realizing my experience and learning more about filmmaking, I had to make it this way. By working in this manner, I actually learned to write as a result.

Regardless of whether working forward or backward, one learns something meaningful as a result of investing a much effort in making a film. Making this film has taught me many lessons – how to identify and follow my instincts on my decisions; let go of the things that don’t fit no matter how much effort I put into them; and respect and maintain faith in my abilities. In terms of my outlook on my family and life, I believe that in the process of making this film and seeing that in fact our family situation has become better, I have learned to accept and let go of our dark family history. I’m very grateful for having been inspired by such passionate teachers and good friends, and as a result gained a tool (and an outlet) to help me to express myself. I hope through REUNIFICATION, I have done so, or at least have learned to do so, honestly.

-Alvin Tsang