FILM REVIEW: To Heaven, To Gather 一起去天堂
Abandoned at an orphanage, three-year-old Xiao Wu finds herself locked in her little world with her goat, refusing to communicate with the outside world. To Heaven, To Gather thus follows her journey of faith and actions when losing hope.
Director: Li-Yue Chang
Runtime: 24 min
Review by: Leticia Sim
When we are first introduced to 3-year-old Xiao Wu, the main protagonist of To Heaven, To Gather, she and her goat are lounging at the back of a van, gazing at the vast blue sky with childish innocence whilst traveling through an endless mountain path. It’s deceptively peaceful; almost as if she’s going on a trip. But that seemingly endless mountain path eventually reaches an end, where she’s abandoned by her grandfather at the gates of an orphanage, goat in tow.
Utilising a mix of foley and clever sound design, the film creates an immersive environment that is as isolating for the viewer as it is for Xiao Wu’s little world. The dialogue is simple and sparse, yet organic – used sparingly by supporting characters to establish an overwhelmingly pervasive lost of hope. Xiao Wu doesn’t say much – in fact, the only line of dialogue she speaks is to her only friend, the goat – the only figure of familiarity and faith in her life.
“…Being socialised to a particular culture, we tend to put on the masks that the society expects us to,” explains Li-Yue Chang in his Director’s statement. He manifests this concept in one simple scene – we see a crowd of eager adults sat encircling one of the orphans. The wide-eyed young boy starts to put on a performance, earnestly singing a nursery rhyme. It almost seems exploitative, but before we are given a chance to contemplate this, is quickly countered with Xiao Wu refusing to speak in front of the audience, eliminating any chance of her being considered for adoption.
The film is constantly drenched in natural lighting, juxtaposing the increasingly bleak circumstances our young protagonist is unwittingly forced to go through. As we learn and empathise more with Xiao Wu, the short yet poignant film only becomes more engrossing.
In the worlds of fiction and reality lies a category of realistic writing that asks the viewer to come to their own conclusions. The unsettling allure of To Heaven, To Gather lies in its ability to captivate the viewers through a unique and deeply perceptive approach to character study.
Broken down into its simplest form and heightened with raw performances from child actors, the film serves as a visually and emotionally impactful exploration of what happens when hope is lost—and by extension, found.
About Kaohsiung Shorts
Started in 2012 by the Kaohsiung Film Archive, 高雄拍 (Kaohsiung Shorts) aims to make Kaohsiung the base for Taiwanese short films— to discover and showcase show films that break the norms, boundaries, and stereotypes through the use of media. Films created under this programme will have their local premiere during the Kaohsiung International Film Festival, the biggest international short film competition in Taiwan. Since 2015, short films created under the Kaohsiung Shorts have been showcased in other countries such as Hong Kong, France, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. You can find more information here.