FILM REVIEW: On The Wire 𤆬路3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Hsien, who suffers from schizophrenia, is loved and cared for by his elder brother Ming and his sister-in-law Hsiu-Fen. Hsien’s constant battle with his mental disorder causes him to begin doubting the love given by his family. With his world threatened, Hsien retaliates, causing fear to his family members.
Director: Kuan-Yi Lee
Cast: Kaiser Chuang, Lucien Liau, Yi-Huang Tsai
Language: Taiwanese Hokkien, Mandarin
Review by Jean Wong
On The Wire (2017) puts us in the midst of a family dealing with schizophrenia and takes us on a whirlwind of their daily shenanigans. Handling what would typically be a stigmatised topic, the film gently but firmly rips the bandaid off on mental health and explores the repercussions it has on the family unit.
Hsien (Kaiser Chuang) is a schizophrenic man in denial of his illness and as such refuses to see the doctor. As his condition seems to deteriorate, his brother Ming (Lucien Liau), who is always cleaning up Hsien’s messes, struggles to find a balance between appeasing Hsien while protecting his family. On The Wire definitely does not shy away from showing us the ugly side of the illness — having a schizophrenic family member is certainly not easy to deal with and Hsien’s unpredictable outbursts prove this. The vivid scenes detailing Hsien’s schizophrenic episodes litter the film aplenty, adding to its gritty and raw aspects.
Ming’s wife, Hsiu-Fen (Yi-Huang Tsai), begins to develop a sense of frustration and fear towards Hsien after one of his episodes. Ming on the other hand never attempts to pin the blame on Hsien, but instead continues to take care of him selflessly. His unconditional love for his brother can be painfully evident in their interactions. While it may be easy to empathise with Ming and dismiss Hsien, an equal focus on both point of views reminds us that Hsien, too, is human and has feelings, making it hard for us to really side with either of them.
For a film that bravely tackles a topic that isn’t often represented in the media, the characters are very much believable and well executed. Hsien’s schizophrenic episodes are frightening and believable, and Ming’s jaded and perturbed disposition makes sense with his experience with Hsien. Respectively, Chuang and Liau fill the boots of their character very well. Chuang delivers nothing short of a convincing act of a schizophrenic character with his realistic though violent outbursts. Liau and Tsai, as ones on the receiving end of these outbursts, do a great job in portraying patient but weary caregivers. It makes it easy to wonder what one might do if in the shoes of these characters, and perhaps this is why the film hits home.
On The Wire is a film filled with both heartache and love — two concepts separated by a very thin line. Though uncomfortable, On The Wire is not afraid to tackle the stigmatised topic of mental illness headfirst. With such an impactful story, this film is sure to sit you through a rollercoaster of emotions.
About Kaohsiung Shorts
高雄拍 (Kaohsiung Shorts) aims to make Kaohsiung the Taiwanese short film base, to discover and showcase new short films that break the norms, boundaries and stereotypes through the use of media. Started in 2012 by the Kaohsiung Film Archive, Kaohsiung Shorts is a short film grant that aims to encourage film talents to be based in Kaohsiung and be inspired by the city. Films created under this programme will be having their Taiwan premiere during the Kaohsiung International Film Festival. Since 2015, short films created under the Kaohsiung Shorts have been showcased in other countries such as Hong Kong, France, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.