A ccording to statistics compiled by the Ministry of the Interior (內政部), the number of married immigrants in Taiwan exceeded 450,000 last year. Yet despite their increasing presence, these foreign spouses, most of whom come from China, Vietnam and Indonesia, remain largely invisible in mainstream Taiwanese society and the mass media.
Four films currently showing at the SPOT — Taipei Film House (光點台北), under the appellation of We Are Family: Festival of the New Immigrants (內人/外人新移民系列電影), shed light on these newcomers.
The idea to make films about immigrants first came to film producer Khan Lee (李崗) five years ago. With funding and support from the National Immigration Agency (移民署) and Videoland Inc (緯來電視網), the project evolved into four feature-length movies by four Taiwanese directors.
In My Little Honey Moon (野蓮香), director Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑) explores his interest in the themes of migration and diaspora, which he first addressed in his debut feature Do Over (一年之初, 2006). The film tells the tale of a family drama centering on Joan, played by Vietnamese actress Helen Thanh Dao, a woman who made her home in the Hakka town of Meinong (美濃) in Greater Kaohsiung.
Joan has dedicated herself to her husband’s family for the six years since she moved to Taiwan. She masters Hakka and Mandarin, yet her husband can’t speak a word of Vietnamese, and her mother-in-law, with her occasional racist comments, has never made Joan feel part of the family. The Vietnamese wife and mother soon develops a friendship with her reticent daughter’s teacher Sun, played by songstress and actor Yangui Yasiungu of Tsou tribe (鄒族), who, as a person of Aboriginal descent, understands too well what it feels like to be an outsider.
Sticking to straight-forward storytelling, the film is less striking than the director’s previous works, but its approach to its characters, especially the husband, played by theater actor Chen Zhu-sheng (陳竹昇), whose ego is wounded and pride suffers because he can barely support his family with his organic farming business, is sincere.
In The Golden Child (金孫), seasoned female director Chou She-wei (周旭薇) adopts a blackly comic and slightly absurd tone in portraying Vietnamese woman Jinzhi’s (Esther Liu, 劉品言) struggle to fulfill the traditional role of female in a Hoklo village in Taichung. One of the many eloquent moments in the film that challenge conventional ideas of family involves Jinzhi’s sister’s half-black and half-Vietnamese baby boy, who Jinzhi eventually raises as her own, frolicking in front of the portraits of the husband’s ancestors.
Technically polished and emotionally absorbing, The Happy Life of Debbie (黛比的幸福生活) tells the bitter-sweet tale of Debbie (Jade Chou, 周幼婷) from Indonesia, who works as a coffee bean picker in Gukeng Township (古坑), Yunlin County, to support her unemployed husband Lu (Chao Cheng-ping, 趙正平) and her teenage son Han, played by first-time actor Nur Najman Ade Putra. Their life is interrupted when a suited Indonesian man shows up at the door, threatening to lay bare the family’s long-held secret.
In the film, her second feature, director Fu Tien-yu (傅天余) demonstrates she possesses surprisingly mature storytelling skills. The movie opens with a nearly 10-minute scene that neatly shows Fu’s talents: Debbie wakes up from dream about her lush hometown. It takes her a second to realize she is now in a place far away from home. On her way to deliver coffee beans, she receives two phone calls. In the first, she is told that her drunken husband is in trouble again at work; in the other she is asked to pick up her son, who has been bullied at school. Debbie stops at a crossroads, not knowing which way to go.