Film review: The Helper – Hong Kong foreign domestic workers’ lives and dreams revealed in heartfelt documentary

Volunteer choir The Unsung Heroes perform in documentary film The Helper (category I), directed by Joanna Bowers.
Volunteer choir The Unsung Heroes perform in documentary film The Helper (category I), directed by Joanna Bowers.

Joanna Bowers’ film following a volunteer choir of foreign domestic helpers as they prepare for a debut performance at Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap is an honest and heartfelt portrait of women leading challenging lives.

Each year, thousands of women flock to Hong Kong from some of the poorest regions of Southeast Asia in search of gainful employment as live-in domestic helpers. Often abandoning their own children to care for the offspring of affluent strangers, these women and their sacrifices and challenges are the focus of a new documentary from Hong Kong-based filmmaker Joanna Bowers.

The Helper follows The Unsung Heroes, a volunteer choir comprised solely of domestic helpers, as they prepare for their debut performance at Clockenflap, Hong Kong’s largest outdoor music festival, in 2015. Among its membership are numerous stories of heartbreak and hardship, but also an inspiring atmosphere of pride and shared accomplishment that keeps spirits high.

Indonesian helper Nurul in The Helper.

The film shares the plight of Nurul, a young Indonesian helper whose life spirals out of control after her employers accuse her of theft. Conversely, Liza from the Philippines chooses to cut herself loose of her demanding family and use her income to explore the world, which includes a breathtaking hiking trip to one of Mount Everest’s base camps.

Beautifully juxtaposing Hong Kong’s shimmering skyline with startling footage of Filipino slums, Bowers also takes time to highlight a number of the charities who are working tirelessly to improve the rights and support networks of helpers across Hong Kong.

Liza from the Philippines in The Helper.

While The Helper occasionally shies away from some of the darkest corners of domestic helper life, the film remains an honest and heartfelt portrait of an incredibly challenging lifestyle. As The Unsung Heroes take to the stage for their climactic show, only the hardest of hearts will remain unmoved. – SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

text JAMES MARSH


The Projector is proud to present a limited screening of THE HELPER on 10 Dec (Sunday) – 2:30pm

Tickets on sale at $11.50 (for FDWs) at The Projector, Golden Mile Tower Level 5


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