The strong elderly Taiwanese woman who silently endures a life of suffering under the shackles of patriarchy is a story that’s often explored in local cinema.
The theme takes center stage in Little Big Women, which tells the story of Shoying (Chen Shu-fang, 陳淑芳), the Chen family matriarch who turned her shrimp-roll stall into a successful restaurant after her philandering husband abandoned the family decades previously. The husband’s untimely death on her 70th birthday throws upends her life as she has to arrange the funeral with her three grown daughters.
Chen, who won last year’s Golden Horse for best actress for this role, also won the best supporting actress award for Dear Tenant (親愛的房客), where she played an ill, but dignified, woman who mourns over the death of her son.
Photo courtesy of Vie Vision Pictures
Chen has a much more complex and nuanced role to work with in Little Big Women. Shoying is playful in private, first seen singing a karaoke love song in the back of a taxi, but is also extremely proud and bitter about the past. She is deeply caring but often domineering toward her three grown daughters, who don’t seem to have the best relationship with her even though she practically raised them alone to become successful adults.
The daughters each have their own issues. The oldest, Ching (Hsieh Ying-hsuan, 陳宛青), is a dance choreographer with health issues. Yu (Vivian Hsu, 徐若瑄) is a plastic surgeon, while Jiajia (Sun Ke-fong, 孫可芳) constantly clashes with her mother while learning how to run the restaurant.
Despite the father being virtually absent for most of their lives, the three often defend him and fight with their mother, which provides a somewhat hard-to-believe yet effectively heartbreaking setting and serves as the basis of the bulk of the conflicts. In one defining scene, Jiajia follows her father’s lover’s wishes and invites a Buddhist prayer chanting group to the funeral hall, while Shoying immediately counters with a rowdy ceremony with blaring suona (嗩吶, a trumpet-like instrument) music.
Photo courtesy of Vie Vision Pictures
While the acting is superb and there are some charming and genuinely moving moments, Shoying’s brooding pride and simmering resentment dominate the atmosphere, leading to a suffocating and slow-burning two hours. Just like in their lives, the daughters’ roles are overshadowed by their mother in the movie, and more focus could have been placed on their relationships with each other, and why they responded as they did to their father’s death. There’s also not much background about the father, aside from his womanizing and squandering the family’s money, which makes it hard to sympathize with the daughters who side with him.
This is director Hsu Cheng-chieh (許承傑) first feature film, developing the script from a short film of the same name, and perhaps it should have been flushed out a bit more. It’s still a strong attempt, and the complex and often-chaotic family dynamics and subtleties it presents will speak deeply to Taiwanese audiences.
Little Big Women 孤味
DIRECTED BY: Hsu Cheng-chieh (許承傑)
STARRING:Chen Shu-fang (陳淑芳) as Shoying, Hsieh Ying-hsuan (謝盈萱) as Ching, Vivian Hsu, (徐若瑄) as Yu and Sun Ke-fong (孫可芳) as Jiajia
RUNNING TIME: 123 Minutes
TAIWAN RELEASE: On Netflix
Joseph Liu chose Norway for his legal studies because he wanted to learn more about human rights. But instead, he’s been fighting the Norwegian government for the past four years for the right to use his national identity. Following a diplomatic row with China in 2010, Norway changed the nationality of its Taiwanese residents to “Chinese.” Liu and others launched the My Name, My Right movement to raise funds and pressure the authorities to change the country designation back to Taiwan. They eventually took the case to the Norwegian supreme court, where they lost in November last year. While the outcome
The outbreak of COVID-19 among the tech firms in Miaoli County — a complete failure by the brokers, firms and the local and central government, any one of whom could have taken action to prevent it — has triggered a serious outbreak of another endemic disease: racism towards migrant workers. The firms themselves led the way, sending around circulars that warned the workers that they would have to pay for their own COVID-19 care should they become infected. One circular I saw even said that workers who contract the virus will be liable for any harm they cause the firm.
Kaohsiung’s National Sun Yat-sen University (國立中山大學) has one of the most idyllic settings of any university in Taiwan. Away from the bustling city center on the far side of Monkey Mountain, also known as Chaishan (柴山) and Shoushan (壽山), the buildings in this tranquil setting are blessed with unobstructed views of Kaohsiung Harbor and the Taiwan Strait, not to mention glorious sunsets. In fact, this area was so beautiful that former president Chiang Kai-Shek (蔣介石) established a villa here for his personal use, preventing the average citizen from entering the area for decades. After his passing in 1975, the Kaohsiung City
With droves of Taiwanese Americans reportedly bolting stateside on “vaccine tours,” the issue of transnational healthcare opportunism is back in the public eye. If you’re wondering if that’s a real thing, well, while I believe I may have just coined the phrase, the phenomenon it describes has been controversial since Taiwan’s superb National Health Insurance (NHI) system was launched in 1995. “Editorials of major Taiwanese newspapers — such as Apple Daily, United Daily News, United Evening News and the Liberty Times (the sister paper of the Taipei Times) — have criticized overseas Taiwanese for manipulating public health insurance