The story begins with the return of Josie to her native land, the Philippines. She has been away in Hong Kong for many years. Josie is middle aged and she has three children. The oldest is her daughter Carla who is a college student. The next is her son Michael who is a high school student. The youngest is the daughter Daday who is in grade school. Michael and Daday arrive at the airport to greet Josie, but she has been away so long that she doesn't even recognize them. She is introduced to them by a long-time family friend. Michael is quite shy to meet his mother. Daday was so young when her mother left that she doesn't even remember her mother.
They return to the family house, which is quite nice by Filipino standards. Friends and neighbors have gathered to hear all about Josie's life in Hong Kong and to receive the obligatory gifts which they know are coming. Michael and Daday don't know how to behave around this seeming stranger. When Josie gives Michael some athletic wear for basketball he informs her that he doesn't even play basketball. Josie is completely out of touch with the lives of her children. Later that night Carla arrives home and gives her mother an icy stare. The stage is set for the remainder of the movie, which centers around the escalating conflict between Josie and her oldest daughter Carla. The other two children at least tolerate Josie's presence but Carla has a deep-seated hatred of her mother.
The movie employs many flashback scenes where we learn the reason why Josie went to Hong Kong in the first place (her husband Rudy had worked in Taiwan but he became so homesick that he came back to the Philippines; somebody had to earn the money for the family and so the burden fell to Josie). There are a few scenes detailing Josie's life in Hong Kong which turns out to be a living Hell. She works as a domestic helper (i.e., maid) for a wealthy Chinese family (apparently the Chinese have replaced the British as the Brahmins of Hong Kong). She cleans house, cooks for the family, and takes care of the infant son of the Chinese parents. The Chinese family treats Josie as they would a family pet, or perhaps worse. One flashback has Josie calling Carla for Carla's birthday. But just when Carla picks up the phone the Chinese family arrives home and Josie hangs up immediately. She doesn't want to get into trouble for making a long distance phone call. Another flashback shows the Chinese family leaving on vacation. They take Josie's passport and lock her in the house for two weeks so she won't run away. Although she has enough food to last her until they return she is a virtual prisoner in the house. One wonders if these scenes are exaggerations or if they actually occur in real life.
Josie has been careful not to reveal her terrible life in Hong Kong to her family. The salary that she earns as a DH goes to supporting a middle class lifestyle for her family. The family lives in a nice house with plenty of good food. The kids attend private schools. All of this is paid for by Josie slaving away in Hong Kong for a Chinese boss who treats her like a dog. But Carla knows nothing of this. To Carla's way of thinking, her mother is living it up in Hong Kong and cares nothing about them. So one wonders, why doesn't Josie just tell Carla the truth? The movie doesn't explain this anomaly.
For example, Carla blames Josie for not returning to attend the funeral of the husband Rudy (the reason for his death is not made clear). But Josie has a good reason. During that time she was locked in the Chinese house with no telephone access. When her Chinese boss returns Josie receives a letter informing her of the death of her husband. She begs her boss to be allowed to return to the Philippines. Her boss refuses. But Carla knows nothing of this. She imagines that her mother intended not to return for the funeral out of spite.
When Josie announces that she is home for good and won't be returning to Hong Kong, the sparks really begin to fly. Carla now embarks on a mission of going out of her way to piss off her mother. She brings her boyfriend over to the house where they sleep together. Josie finds them the next morning and she is deeply offended (which of course, was Carla's intention). Meanwhile, Michael has been hiding a secret from his mother. He attends a fancy private school on a scholarship. Unfortunately, his grades have gone downhill and his scholarship has been revoked. His mother must now fork over a large tuition bill to keep him in school. But Michael is afraid to tell his mother this bad news. Also, the youngest daughter Daday plays a trick on her mother in which she invites Josie to eat a meal cooked by Daday only to find out there is a live frog on the plate. It seems Josie can't get any respect from her children.
Tensions escalate when Carla decides to run away from home. She hooks up with a bad gang of drug users. She takes on a boyfriend who is a real low-life scumbag. Josie eventually tracks down Carla and enters the apartment where she begs Carla to come home. They eventually end up in a cat fight with Josie winding up on the floor, decked by Carla. If Carla had been my kid I would have knocked her into next week (but that's another story). Josie leaves disappointed thinking that she has lost a daughter. Soon afterward Carla discovers that her low-life boyfriend has been unfaithful to her. She runs away to a bar where she drinks too much and winds up lying in the gutter stone cold drunk. Luckily for her, her family finds her and rescues her.
By now Josie has had enough. She decides to return to Hong Kong since she can't get any respect from her children. That evening Josie and Carla end up having the climactic fight of the entire movie. Each of them says hurtful words to the other. It is only now that Josie reveals how horrible her life in Hong Kong is. Buckets of tears are shed during this scene and both Vilma Santos and Claudine Barretto engage in a bit of overacting by American standards. Now Carla does an abrupt about-face and begins to appreciate her mother. This turn of events is frankly unbelievable in my opinion and I thought it greatly diminished the credibility of the entire movie. Despite her reconciliation with Carla, Josie proceeds with her plan to return to Hong Kong. After arriving in Hong Kong she receives a letter from Carla talking about recent events in the family. Josie smiles. All is right with the world. Her daughter has forgiven her and vice versa. Huh?, what kind of closure is that? Nothing substantial has been resolved by the end of the movie. Josie is still working as a DH for some Chinese boss who treats her like a dog. Some happy ending!
Overall, this was a pretty good movie if you can live with the mediocre ending. It is a cut above the typical Filipino fare. In particular I would like to single out the performance of Baron Geisler who played Michael. I thought he stole the show with his masterful performance. He didn't have a whole lot of lines in the movie but the impact of his facial expressions and body language were very powerful. There were several times during the movie where I wanted to take the character played by Claudine Barretto and smack her around a bit. I thought the Carla character was a little bitch who needed to be taught a big lesson. I also thought the film missed a golden opportunity to make a political statement about the awful economic situation in the Philippines, which forces millions of Filipinos to leave their homeland and earn a living abroad. For all these reasons I give this movie a rating of three stars.