Fresh From Taiwan: Four Enchanting Films at the Golden Harvest Singapore Showcase9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
Looking to immerse yourself in the earnest tales of young, up-and-coming filmmakers from abroad?
For the first time in Singapore, we will be screening four special Taiwanese short films in conjunction with Taiwan’s renowned Golden Harvest Awards and Short Film Festival. Take a sneak peek into the minds of some of Taiwan’s budding filmmakers through the stories they have to tell, stories that we might not see so often in Singapore. Expect to be taken on a refreshing adventure with these award-winning films that are both easily relatable but also different enough to intrigue.
While the chosen films range from different mediums and genres, they showcase their own unique takes on community, family, and love. A lonely old man is not that different from an abandoned girl. A mother pining for her daughter’s return shares the same desperation as a child craving the attention of a busy parent. Such familiar tales may seem hackneyed in a long history of Asian films, but these issues undoubtedly remain close to our hearts as the four filmmakers work to worm their way into intimate territory – and possibly, draw a tear or two.
Happening on 15 September 2019, Sunday, the showcase at The Arts House will begin at 1pm with exclusive panel discussions from local and Taiwanese film industry professionals.
Admission is free for all panel discussions and screenings, so just register for your tickets here!
Let’s now take a look at the films that have captured our hearts, and we hope that they’ll capture yours too.
Where Am I Going? 當一個人
Directed by Huang Yun-Sian and Tsai Yi Chin
Following the day of an aged man who has just received news that he will soon be evicted from his home, Where Am I Going? forces us to walk in his shoes as he heads towards an uncertain future. Coupled with this imminent problem is a modern society moving too fast for a lone figure already struggling to keep up. And the film successfully evokes our empathy in such a short time without being too in-your-face about it.
Where Am I Going? is equal parts heartening and terrifying. While the old man goes about his day, the melodious refrain from the ceremonial Chinese instrument suo na hints at his comfort in routine and traditions. Then, the jarring sounds of the radio and motors overpower the music.
Eerily dancing traffic lights leaves the elderly man horror stricken, and our heart goes out to the elderly man who is terrorised by frightening hallucinations of present-day progress. In seeing what he sees, we unwittingly feel what he fears.
Vehicles speed past the old man as he slowly trudges along. He is out of sync and left behind. And this is where the stop-motion medium triumphs: the quiet determination of the old man to live his day echoes the long, tedious process of composing shots for this stop-motion animation. With every painstaking footstep that the man takes, we are reminded of the necessary adjustments made by the directors – slowly and steadily – in order to create the scene.
But, not all hope is lost. Alongside the final crescendo to a combined musical piece involving suo nas, gongs, and other percussion, the film peaks at a visually-stunning scene featuring the ostentatious Mazu temple. Mazu, a popular deity in Taiwan, is given her due respect in this magnificent and optimistic portrayal. The spectacular splendour is a space of solace that the man can turn to, a homage paid to the grandeur of Chinese traditions.
Despite the heart-wrenching portrayal of a man grunting through his old age, there is a silent dignity to his life. Despite the proliferation of advanced animation work, the stop-motion medium persists. And Where Am I Going? succeeds in honouring both.
To Heaven, To Gather 一起去天堂
Directed by Li-Yue Chang
“Hold on to the goat.” These are the last words Xiao Wu’s (Ming-Yu Lu) grandfather instructs before he leaves her in front of the orphanage gates, and the very thing which she strictly abides by every time she grasps the leash of the nanny goat. In all its poignancy, To Heaven, To Gather portrays the endearing innocence of a child against harsher realities.
Her simple approach to a life that constantly lets her down would resound with the knowing but jaded audience. We all wish for simpler times from our childhoods, when we were protected from the world.
As the adults around her seem to be the cruel instigators of unhappy events in Xiao Wu’s life, director Li-Yue Chang is careful not to vilify them completely. In a grandfather who has abandoned her, he left with her his whole possession, the goat. In the taking away of the goat Xiao Wu has grown dependent on, there is an orphanage dean (Yi-Ching Lu) who wishes that she will have a better future in a new family. The nuanced depiction of the characters slowly takes the form of an unlikely mirror: we too are the adults who fervently wish to preserve Xiao Wu’s happiness.
Director of Photography (and frequent Wong Kar-Wai collaborator!) Christopher Doyle does not disappoint with the beautiful cinematography of mountainous regions and endless fields. Against the pastoral backdrop of untouched nature, Xiao Wu skips along, carefree and sprightly. And the camera which positions us to see eye-to-eye with Xiao Wu compels us to trail alongside her in her journey.
Heavily dependent on Ming-Yu Lu’s stunning performance of a girl’s endless optimism and hope, To Heaven, To Gather tells a relatively ordinary tale that does not seek to surprise beyond the initial trigger. But Xiao Wu’s understanding of life stirs contemplation and reminds us of a child-like view of the world: the possibilities in the impossible.
Check out our full review of the film here.
Mama Pingpong Social Club 媽媽桌球
Directed by Shian-An Chuang
A mother’s yearning for company and love. A daughter’s absence and hopes for validation. Mama Pingpong Social Club brings a Western spin into this Asian household when A-Mien reconnects with a high school friend, who is as enigmatic as she is youthful. Introduced to an underground basement with a thriving pingpong community made up of like-minded and similarly-aged women, A-Mien immediately wants in. “It’s always good to have company,” right?
Amidst the light-hearted music and fun twist, at the film’s core is the tale of a lonely middle-aged woman seeking purpose in her life. Her husband is shamelessly absent, with suspicious name cards slipped into his clothes. This leaves A-Mien with her only other kin, who is also slipping through her fingertips – her daughter. The complete breakdown of communication between mother and daughter looms when Mei Jia announces that she is leaving her mother’s home to move to another city.
The supernatural flavour could have easily undermined the quality and gravity of the film, but the actresses carry it off in such a convincing manner that makes it undeniably appropriate. The surprising genre element incorporated into Mama Pingpong Social Club is not only entertaining, but becomes an otherwise unconventional answer to a common parent’s fancy. And it confirms what most of us already know but sometimes forget: the magnitude of a mother’s love and sacrifice, regardless of the pain she undergoes.
We have a longer review of this film which you can read here.
Tail End of the Year 年尾巴
Directed by Chieh Yang
Marking the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the reunion dinner on the eve is significant as an important event for families to gather together. From the splatter of red colours around the household to the festive music played and well-wishes recited upon meeting elder family members, Tail End of the Year dives into a day which epitomises familial kinship and unity.
However, as little Yang Lan’s (Angel Ho) uncles and aunts flood into the house and give her kisses, it is on this day that she is isolated the most. Family gossip happens behind her back regarding her busy singer mother, and the same uncles and aunts show her no mercy in a gambling game of mahjong.
In a heart-rending scene when her aunts wipe the dirty faces of her cousins as Yang Lan wipes her own, the film speaks directly to our uncomfortable understanding of what it means to be so alone on a day which supposedly eschews loneliness. There is no need for explicit dialogue. We know the pain.
That is what makes the short film so evocative and relatable: director and writer Chieh Yang’s shrewd understanding of the unsaid. Things are never direct. From innuendo to a slight glance mid-conversation, the undercurrents occurring casually throughout the film become an inside joke shared with the audience. You know what I really mean. Accurately capturing the need for specific behaviour in a social gathering, the fantastic screenwriting and wonderful acting – down to micro-facial twitches – demands the attention of the audience and lures them in.
By building up to a revelation, Tail End of the Year rightfully establishes itself as a film that rewards multiple watches. It is only in hindsight that we realise that Yang Lan’s seeming acts of defiance are simply a child’s call for attention, that her screams of “The pain is killing me!” and “You left me alone!” are expressions of bottled-up feelings of pain and neglect.
And as the film ends with her growth towards independence, and her acceptance of the little family reunion that she received, we are left to dwell on the uneasiness of watching a girl who has no choice but to mature.
Make sure to catch all these films at their Singapore premiere by registering here!
Powered by National Youth Council Singapore
Organised by Sinema Media
In Partnership with Golden Harvest Awards & Short Film Festival
and With Support from Singapore Film Society