If you are interested in traditional Chinese tailoring known as Cheongsam, then “The Last Stitch”, directed by Alfred Sung is probably the right film for you. But there is more to it than the simply told story of the trade: Sung masterfully weaves the threads of the family history and the history of migration of the Chinese diaspora in the 20th century.
Sung comes from the background of traditional Cheongsam tailoring, both of his parents, father Tommy and mother Connie are masters of the trade, operating a small workshop in the basement of their suburban Toronto house. Their retirement age is nearing and they are concerned if the family trade is going to be passed onto the new generation, their sons Alfred and Simon who are developing their own careers in other trades. Needless to say, the whole Cheongsam trade is slowly dying out under the pressure of modern times and the influences of the western culture.
The story, however, chronologically starts a continent away from Toronto. Both Tommy and Connie were born in mainland China before the communists came to power, so they had to move and search for better prospects in Hong Kong, where Tommy inherited his father’s shop in the Repulse Bay neighbourhood. This is where Tommy and Simon were born, but the whole family had to move once again, this time to Canada, when Hong Kong came back under the Chinese jurisdiction. The family business goes well, but the trends in fashion and the ones in life can be unpredictable.
We also learn from the film that Alfred has been an amateur filmmaker from young age, filming the material from his home and neighbourhood for his own pleasure. “The Last Stitch” relies heavily on that type of material, filmed on home-level of equipment, but Sung is clever enough to include the other cinematographers and camera operators for the newly filmed material and also to spice things up with additional material such as photos from the family albums.
Sung comes from a varying professional background. He was working as a news researcher on television and was a published writer with several books under his belt. Two of them were the graphic novels about his family. “The Last Stitch” is actually the logical step in his career towards filmmaking, even though most of his directorial job was done with the choice of the story and adopting the approach of a careful listener and restrained narrator.
The end result is a competent documentary that might not be lavish in style, but is easy enough to follow and it lets its elements to connect to a bigger kind of story. Most of all, it feels warm and deeply personal.