​CFF 2023: 'Streams Flow from a River' Makes a Big Splash for a New Canadian Director Directed by Christopher Yip

Starring Jane Luk, Jinny Wong, Raymond Chan, Danielle Ayow, Liam Ma, Simon Sinn, Benjamin Sutherland, Brett Houghton, Wesley French, Dana Liu, Adrian So
​CFF 2023: 'Streams Flow from a River' Makes a Big Splash for a New Canadian Director Directed by Christopher Yip
Photo courtesy of Canadian Film Festival
Set in rural Alberta, Streams Flow from a River follows the Chow family, who reunite under unfortunate circumstances. After Gordon Chow (played by Simon Sinn in the present and Raymond Chan in flashbacks) suffers a stroke, his adult children Loretta (Danielle Ayow in the present, Dana Liu in flashbacks) and Henry (Liam Ma in the present, Adrian So in flashbacks) come home at the behest of their mother, Diana (Jane Luk in the present, Jinny Wong in flashbacks). After a snowstorm and stalled car forces Loretta and Henry to stay overnight, memories of their youth are rekindled as the Chows reckon with their strained familial bonds.

Streams Flow from a River is told over the course of six episodes going back and forth from the present to the past. Although the series begins with Loretta and Henry, the focal point of the series is Diana. As a young woman, she was sent to Canada by her parents in Hong Kong with the weight of their expectations for a better life. She meets Gordon at church and the two fall in love and get married, but at their pared-down banquet, she is faced with having to use her family's wedding gift to pay for the bill, as Gordon wrongly assumes he will be given a discount. It's the first of many times Diana will force a smile onto her face and cure Gordon's financial missteps; a well-meaning gesture to be sure, but one that will have a ripple effect on her children.

In recent years, there have been many films and TV shows on the topic of immigrant families, particularly those from East Asian countries. What makes Streams Flow from a River stand out among them is how director and co-writer Christopher Yip crafts the series into a family story about people who happen to be immigrants, rather than telling an overt immigrant story. It's a subtle distinction, but one that is warmly welcomed. 

Notably, the series doesn't focus on any particular racial hardship the Chow family face. Instead, we see Diana and Gordon welcomed into the church, Henry easily befriending a Caucasian boy who asks Henry to teach him some good and bad words in Chinese, and Loretta hanging out with an Indigenous friend. Yip finds the perfect balance in not making race the main event while not ignoring race altogether — an outcome many large studios fail to achieve when casting non-white actors in projects.

Considering that this is an indie series, the production quality is impressive. Cinematographer Allen Liu captures the cold, steely nature of Alberta's harsh winters in perfect tandem with the fraught relationship of Henry and Loretta and their parents. The warmth of the flashback scenes encompasses the promise and hope Gordon has when he first arrives in Alberta. There are also some gentle nods to Wong Kar-wai and the stylizing of Hong Kong films of that time, which are beautifully synchronic with the episode's time frame. 

Yip effortlessly blends the small details into a bigger picture, and the performances he pulls from his actors are affecting and stirring. Streams Flow from a River is a quiet series that loudly announces the presence of an emerging Canadian director.

Canadian Film Fest 2023 runs from March 28 to April 1, both in-person in Toronto and on Super Channel Fuse. Find details at the festival's website. (Fae)