How Are You, Dad (爸，你好嗎) is director Chang Tso-chi’s (張作驥) response to his late father, a veteran soldier who fled to Taiwan with Chinese Nationalist Party troops, and before his death admonished his son to make a film he could understand. Five years after he passed away, Chang, whose films are usually in Hakka and Hoklo [commonly known as Taiwanese], produced a compilation of 10 short stories in Mandarin about 10 different fathers and their relationships with their children.
The father figure, biological or symbolic, has always played an important part in Chang’s works. The sons, sometimes suffering from the Oedipus complex, are often abandoned and separated from their fathers, who are often alcoholics, gamblers or criminals. Some critics have compared Chang’s father-son relationships with Taiwan’s relationship towards Japan and China.
In How Are You, Dad, the father figures are more diverse, which allows viewers from different backgrounds to identify and emphasize with the characters that include a tough gangster played by Jack Kao (高捷), who melts before his daughter after she is paralyzed in a diving accident, a young single dad played by Gau Meng-jie (高盟傑), who is lost, drunk and sobs uncontrollably beside his infant son and a Taiwanese businessman who is too busy to spend time with his kids but is willing to sacrifice his life for them.
Many of Chang’s signature themes are revisited here. His interest in identity is touched upon in the story of a half-Japanese, half-Taiwanese transvestite, and his enthusiasm for magical realism is realized through CGI zoo animals in the tale of a Hong Konger actor and his son, who is severely brain damaged.
HOW ARE YOU, DAD (爸，你好嗎)
DIRECTED BY: CHANG TSO-CHI
STARRING: JACK KAO (高捷), CHEN MU-YI (陳慕義), GAU MENG-JIE (高盟傑), LI CHUEN (李淳) AND CHANG CHIA-NIEN (張嘉年) AS THE FATHERS, CHANG JIE (張捷) AND FAN CHIH-WEI (范植偉) AS THE SONS, CHEN PEI-JUN (陳佩君) AND JI PEI-HUI (紀培慧) AS THE DAUGHTERS
LANGUAGE: IN MANDARIN, TAIWANESE, JAPANESE, CANTONESE WITH CHINESE AND ENGLISH SUBTITLES
RUNNING TIME: 107 MINUTES
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
While many of the stories try too hard, Chang excels in capturing the subtle and nuanced emotions of everyday life. Iron Gate (鐵門) opens with a familiar scene: an extended Taiwanese family having dinner at the aged father’s home. In three long takes, Chang masterfully conveys the in-laws’ bickering and veiled bitterness and the loneliness of the old man, who sits my himself in his quiet house after his sons and daughters rush back home.
In The Sight of Father’s Back (背影), veteran actor Chen Mu-yi (陳慕義) plays a small-town worker who ferries his son to the train station on his rusty old truck after working a night shift to pay for the child’s school outing. The story paints an unforgettable image of a traditional father figure: reticent, reserved and awkward when it comes to showing his emotions and love for his offspring.
Another stand-out story is The Old Time Dream (昨日舊夢). Though nothing much takes place, the audience is quickly drawn into the witty conversation a father, son and grandson engage in at the dining table. The minutes-long dialogue is enough to paint a familial scene that tugs at the heartstrings: a widowed Mainlander lives alone in Taipei after his son and three daughters long since ago moved to Singapore and the US.
When he comes back to visit, the grown-up son looks amazedly at his father, feeling disturbed by the thought that he no longer knows the old man standing before him.