Grief and healing take central stage in Kuo Chen-ti’s (郭珍弟) new film, The Boar King (山豬溫泉), which tells a deceptively quiet story of loss and rebirth inspired by the traumatic events when Typhoon Morakot devastated southern Taiwan in 2009. While it could have easily been made into a work of lachrymose sentimentality, the film thankfully doesn’t go in that direction. Instead, it looks at human suffering and pain with considerable restraint, buttressed by solid performances of Lu Yi-ching (陸弈靜) and Tsai Chen-nan (蔡振南).
Set in Baolai (寶來) in Greater Kaohsiung’s Liouguei Township (六龜), the film opens with home video footage of torrential flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot, as the off-screen cameraman witnesses the catastrophe in awe. The man’s name is Ying — played by Chen Mu-i (陳慕義) — who later disappears.
The widowed wife, Cho (Lu Yi-ching, 陸弈靜), is left with a hot spring lodge that barely survives the disaster. Seized by despair, Cho attempts and fails to commit suicide, having thought of her responsibility for Ying’s senile father, who lives with her. One day, Ying’s close friend Nan (Tsai Chen-nan, 蔡振南), a hunter, shows up at Cho’s door, offering to help rebuild the mountain inn. A reticent man, Nan has kept his tender feeling toward Cho for years.
Photo courtesy of Good Day Films
Ying’s death also brings back Cho’s step-daughter Fen (Wu I-ting, 吳伊婷), who works mundane jobs in the city. Amid grief, she meets land surveyor Garmin, played by Soda Voyu from Seediq Bale (賽德克巴萊), and love starts to bud between the two.
Meanwhile, the villagers are forced to leave the devastated area, selling their homes to a resort development company. But one by one, they receive invitations sent by Ying before he died to a banquet set to be held at the inn. Perplexed, Cho looks to the home videos shot by her late husband, hoping to unravel the secret of his death.
Five years after her less than satisfactory debut feature Step by Step (練戀舞), Kuo has returned here with a finely executed and honest work filled with lyrical moments. The polished cinematography by Paotao (寶島) allows for the full expression of nature, whether a collapsed mountain slope, a riverbed studded with massive rocks, lush woods and hidden trails.
At times, sequences from the home videos shot by Chen’s character are inserted in and fused with the present narration, not only providing clues to the man’s thinking and his mysterious disappearance, but serving a link that enables the living to search for and reconnect with the dead and to come to terms with their grief.
The daughter’s reconnection with her father also raises the issue of land and homecoming. “The mountain road to home is no longer obstructed, don’t you think?” she says to her lover. However, much of the film’s failing lies in its rather flaccid effort to explore the young woman’s transformation. Her off-screen narration appears superfluous, adding nothing significant to the story, and theater actress Wu delivers the role with punctuated intensity that sometimes belongs to the stage rather than in front of the camera.
The crowning moments in The Boar King ultimately belong to veteran thespians Lu and Tsai. In a scene toward the end, Nan recounts an unforgettable encounter with a wild boar to Cho. We follow Nan’s resonant voice into the woods, where hot spring water flows, lives are intertwined and life quietly goes on.
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