Seven years after his 2002 debut feature Twenty Something Taipei (台北晚九朝五), seasoned actor Leon Dai (戴立忍) returns to the director’s chair with No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你). The film, the title of which means “I can’t live without you” in Spanish, is based on a true story. Shot in black-and-white, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti centers on a blue-collar, single father’s struggle to raise his daughter while engaged in a fierce battle against an unyielding bureaucracy.
Blessed with a masterful control of cinematography and flair for a sober aesthetic, Dai succeeds in weaving an accessible and compelling melodrama. The story evokes acute emotions, the effects of which linger long after the movie ends.
The film opens with Li Wu-hsiung (Chen Wen-pin, 陳文彬) holding his young daughter, Mei (Chao Yu-hsuan, 趙祐萱), and threatening to jump off a bridge. As the police attempt to intervene, TV news cameras focus on the two figures, with reporters hastily speculating about the motives of the suicidal father. Throughout the scene, Li shouts, “society is not fair!”
Rewind to two months earlier. Li lives as a tramp near Kaohsiung harbor earning a meager living working odd jobs, such as diving for a sly boat captain. Mei observes this particular dangerous endeavor, concerned that the worn equipment might break and her father die.
Though Mei’s mother abandoned the family years ago, Li and his daughter, who live together in an empty warehouse on the docks, share a ramshackle but affectionate existence. Life is manageable until the authorities discover that Li is not Mei’s legal guardian.
Following the advice of his old friend A-tsai (Lin Chih-ju, 林志儒), Li, hoping to resolve the problem, travels to Taipei to track down a former classmate, now a legislator. What follows is a Kafkaesque nightmare, as the bureaucracy rules that removing Mei from her father’s care is in her best interest.
Driven to despair, Li resorts to drastic measures, which eventually culminate in the opening standoff.
Shot with precise mise en scene, the unassuming film is energized by natural performances and unobtrusive camerawork, a technique that produces authenticity. The austere black-and-white cinematography leads to a simple, focused style, transforming the family’s grimy hovel into a safe haven for Li and his daughter. Without the distracting visual chaos of a film shot in color, audiences are able to focus on the relationship between the two, mesmerized by their struggle to remain a family.
Though the story offers Dai numerous opportunities to examine the failings of impersonal bureaucracy, the director fails to fully explore these resonant themes. He instead depicts government figures as stereotypically lifeless drones. This simplistic conception of the Establishment prevents what could have been a sophisticated commentary on the problems posed by living in such an environment.
Social analysis aside, the film is, at its heart, a story about a father’s fear of losing his daughter, not an existential critique.
First-time actor Chen delivers a touching performance as an underprivileged man who, down on his luck, refuses to relinquish his fatherhood. The film adopts a nuanced approach towards the relationship between Li and his daughter, establishing their affection through tender silence and wisely eschewing mawkish outbursts of emotion. One such subtle moment occurs during a diving expedition. As Li plunges into the deep blue sea, alone but free, safeguarded from the hostile world above, he looks up and catches sight of the faint image of Mei, quietly awaiting his return.
NO PUEDO VIVIR SIN TI
LEON DAI (戴立忍)
CHEN WEN-PIN (陳文尉) AS LI WU-HSIUNG,
CHAO YU-HSUAN (趙祐萱) AS MEI,
LIN CHIH-JU (林志儒) AS A-TSAI
IN MANDARIN, TAIWANESE AND
HAKKA WITH CHINESE AND
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