Happy Palace

Adrian Leung

" Adrian Leung's music is very fulfilling in all its musical details and effectiveness in the film. "

Written by Joep de Bruijn - Review of the download only release

Happy Palace is a 2024 Dutch TV movie directed by Nicole van Kilsdonk. It tells the comic drama of a destitute Chinese restaurant, whose owner dies a curious death, leaving behind his wife and two children. In the midst of their grief, daughter Yung LIng and son Lok Man are compelled by their mother to preserve the restaurant's legacy because she believes it will mend the family's bond.

In making the film, the director surrounded herself with a considerable amount of Dutch-Chinese people to give weight to the authenticity, from an editor, scriptwriter, the cast and by allowing Hong Kong-Australian composer Adrian Leung to write the original score. That semi-genuine comes through quite well, but the film drowns in a mixture of different ideas that makes the overall outcome imbalanced and mediocre.

Happy Palace's greatest component is undoubtedly Adrian Leung's music. In post-production, he collected ideas based on Chinese music, searched for new and interesting sounds, and became involved in an early stage, seeing the film take shape in the editing process. This gave him the opportunity to refine and expand his music as needed.

As the film is constructed of different ideas, including referential Chinese clichés concerning the culture in the Netherlands, some of it with irony, some of it with a serious intent regarding family affairs and Chinese culture, the music reflects that evidently. Leung incorporates ideas from Beijng opera (including the beautiful voice of Ling Tse), the erhu performed by Liu Qing, various types of percussion, influences of Cantopop and kuaiban clapping sticks (also played by Liu Qing). In order to create this rather unique sound design, the composer combines this with a more universal, cinematic approach, sampling a Pianodrome grand piano and utilizing numerous other processed sounds. The score has a lot going on, yet the final film mix does obscure some of these details.

From a dramatic point of view, the theme of grief in the shattered family, and how the deceased father is the red wire to connect them, is particularly movingly transcribed by Leung for an atmospheric, small piano theme. There are variations on this theme, interpolated with atmospheric sounds, the erhu and operatic singing, as can be heard in the cue The Past, The Present. Yet, the highlight comes in an unadorned version with miniscule dramatic intent to a sequence that ends with a split screen of the brother and sister, emotionally bonded through their grief long before they accept everything.

Leung comments on Chinese traditions regarding the spirituality of the deceased and underlines this with imaginative music, as can be heard in the track "Spiritual Connection". Themes closely related to Chinese spirituality, such as ancestral worship and the three realms - deceased can coexist with the living - are also well illustrated through the use of a song not by Leung, in a classic montage, wherein once sees the ghost of the father singing the song with two musicians by his side.

The rhythmic percussion, particularly the kuaiban sticks, is of a very pleasurable quality, both in terms of how they are the pulse of how some of the scenes as they are edited, and provide a fine tongue in cheek effect when combined with other sounds and instruments.

The subplot about Aunt Ming, a member of the triad who lent the father money to continue the restaurant, is treated with different musical approaches; the tongue in cheek music, overall Chinese clichéd music, but also tension filled music that contributes to a morbid sense of humor.

Adrian Leung's music is very fulfilling in all its musical details and effectiveness in the film. As a separate listening experience, it is quite pleasurable, even though it is only 20 minutes long.


1. Enter the Palace 1:34
2. Not So Happy Place 1:41
3. Discovery 1:14
4. Sibling Fight 0:36
5. Double Happiness 1:05
6. Dad Issues 1:13
7. Sing Wa 0:49
8. I'm Coming for You 2:00
9. The Past, Still Present 2:17
10. Failure 0:59
11. Spiritual Connection 1:08
12. Poisonous Leaf 0:54
13. Chinese New Year 1:05
14. Maotai Ming 0:47
15. Repair 1:26
16. Final Fire 1:50

Total duration: 20:37

(click to rate this score)  
(total of 2 votes - average 4/5)

Released by

Riva Media Records (download only release 2024)