A man in despair walks down a lonely road, only for a watering truck to creep up behind him while spraying its contents on the roadside, drive by and soaking the man despite having plenty of room to avoid doing so. In some ways this simple scene highlighted the plight that the downtrodden face from society, or from people with the ability to show a little kindness or assistance - that it's easy to kick sand into others when their chips are down, or just plainly don't give two hoots about others.
This black-and-white Taiwanese film by Leon Dai, which walked away with major victories at the recent Golden Horse Awards, tells the simple story based on a true-life incident, where a man took his daughter and perched themselves precariously at the edge of an overhead bridge over major road traffic, threatening to jump off because they've been given the short end of the stick from society time and again.
Chen Wen-Pin and Chao Yo-Hsuan play the father Li Wu-Hsiung and 7 year old daughter Yu-Ting / Mei in very convincing terms, being the broken family that they are with Wu-Hsiung not even being the legal guardian of his child because she was born out of wedlock, with his "wife" walking out on them, and Wu-Hsiung not even knowing that she was already married then. It is these complications in his family setup, that they somehow slipped through the cracks of society and its welfare system, whose safety nets don't offer much reprieve when he's found out to be illegally living in an abandoned warehouse with his daughter, though happy in their makeshift home.
Much of the initial scenes highlights their living conditions and the odd, high-risk job that Wu-Hsiung undertakes to put food on the table, and this gets down at a leisurely pace to evoke sympathies for the audience to their plight, making one wonder just how things deteriorated into attempted suicide. The other bulk of the movie focused on how any bureaucratic system can fail those who somehow find themselves outside of the system, being treated as a no-good problem that refuses to go away. In such cases the easiest way to wriggle out from, is to push the problem to some other folks for them to take it on.
I suppose anyone who has dealt with bureaucracy would have faced this "taichi" (or pushing hands) in one form and one place or another, either having legislation thrown at your face, or just faced with impassable red tape. With the law being cold and justice being blind, if we were to put ourselves into Wu-Hsiung's shoes, we can imagine the frustration at how folks just refuse to think out of the box, or discard that uncaring hat (that it's just a job) for a moment, and to come up with real, from the bottom of the heart, solutions, than to pay cheap, lip service with a sense of relief that the issue is now passed along. The film's other message directs at our uncaring attitude that we are prone to exhibit - that if there's nothing in it for me, then it's not worthwhile investing effort in.
But the film is also more than that, and the story by Chen Wen-pin and Leon Dai also allowed for the capture of really harsh scenery from the port city of Kaoshiung. Running at a breezy 85 minutes, it captured enough to layer the story, without a minute going overboard with its art-house tendencies. What I also enjoyed here is the friendship between Wu-Hsiung and A-Tsai, the latter who has stood by his friend for many years, offering him as best as an advice anyone could give, and going out of his way to assist in ways that are way, way better than those in the system and with the know-how could.
The more interesting observation however, as far as the local scene is concerned, is how this film finally made it to our shores here, with its highly mashed Taiwanese Mandarin, Hokkien and Hakka dialogue completely intact, without a single snip, including all the "Kans" (subtitled as "F*ck" intact as well, without blurring / blacking it out). Word on the street was that this may not have been screened here due to its language, but the major victories at the recent Golden Horse Awards where it also won Best Picture, had likely boosted it chances and warranted a review.
Furthermore, this film is rated PG, compared to the last Taiwanese film Cape No 7 (NC16) for language, though the latter film had expected broad-based appeal and had vulgarities which had to be crudely snipped off (then rated PG). Perhaps we may be seeing a relaxation of the rules for award winning art-house films, bestowed upon with a lower rating despite some elements which may have given this something higher than a PG. But no matter the case, if a Taiwanese film can be screened with its language intact, then I am still crossing my fingers one day, in my lifetime, that Hong Kong, Cantonese films be screened intact as well. It's a baby step that I hope can turn into a giant leap in due course.