The mental and emotional strain of families being cooped up together due to the COVID-19 pandemic will resonate with anyone in the world today. Weaving a compelling, unique story out of it is a different challenge.
Building on the acclaim of the multiple-Golden Horse winning A Sun (陽光普照), Chung Mong-hong (鍾孟宏) delivers another slow-burning yet poignant and intense family drama that’s beautifully shot with masterful use of lighting and color. The building that the protagonists live in stands out from the cityscape as it’s covered with a blue construction tarp for most of the movie, bathing the living room in a dark, cold tone that contrasts with the otherwise warm lighting. Perhaps it represents the facemasks that they have to wear even indoors, both literally and figuratively.
A Sun mainly dealt with father-and-son relationships, while The Falls features single mother and office executive Pin-wen (Alyssa Chia, 賈靜雯) and her high school age daughter Xiao Jing (Gingle Wang, 王淨) who are forced to stay at home together after Xiao Jing’s classmate catches the virus. Chung’s films are usually male-heavy, dealing with their feelings of isolation and insecurity, and this is the first time he’s headlining female characters — although it still feels like it’s being portrayed from a male perspective.
Photo courtesy of 3 NG Film
The Falls lacks the suffocating tension that almost brings time to a halt in A Sun, which flows more smoothly and feels more suspenseful as the audience is constantly wondering when the characters will reach their limits and snap. In both films, repressed family members who are incapable of expressing themselves are forced to open up to each other, and for better or for worse it makes their relationships tighter.
Pin-wen, who still pines for her ex-husband, cannot handle Xiao Jing’s impertinent behavior, and coupled with problems at work, her mental state begins to fall apart. Chia handles this complex role masterfully, convincingly portraying her deteriorating condition. She does a subtle and nuanced job, providing a touching portrait of a middle-aged woman in an existential crisis. This fate is quite common in Taiwanese society as many women that age are still expected to quietly take on the family burden. Meanwhile, her husband (Lee Lee-zen, 李李仁) simply gets remarried, and her stress and despondency is apparent.
Xiao Jing notices this, and she and her mother’s roles suddenly become reversed after just one incident. This drastic transformation from spoiled brat to an extremely responsible and caring person without much difficulty is one of my gripes about the film, as it makes Wang’s character rather one dimensional and the story less dynamic. Despite this, it’s hard not to be sympathetic toward Xiao Jing, and you really end up sitting on the edge of your seat the whole two hours hoping that things turn out all right for her.
Photo courtesy of 3 NG Film
Still, there’s something missing. Despite the stunning cinematography, masterful use of mood and tension, relevant social commentary and great acting, the plot just feels flat, more like a winding stream than a waterfall. Every time it seems like something dramatic is about to happen, it doesn’t, and even the most dire situations are solved without a hitch. It almost feels insulting to the women, especially as they are often helped by men, while Chung’s male characters in other films have to go through a lot more to just scrape by.
Chung’s favorite actors all make cameos in the film, with Chen Yi-wen (陳以文) playing the largest role as Pin-wen’s new boss and potential love interest. Chen is great as usual, but the inclusion of familiar faces in bit roles (store clerk, firefighter, etc) is rather distracting and irritating as they are already seen in just about every other Taiwanese feature film.
Nevertheless, The Falls is another strong effort by Chung that’s relevant and illuminating, especially toward mental health, and is good enough to be selected as Taiwan’s entry to the Academy Awards’ Best International Feature. It’s just that the story could be thought out better with some female input.
The Falls (瀑布)
Directed by: Chung Mong-hong (鍾孟宏)
Starring: Alyssa Chia (賈靜雯) as Pin-wen, Gingle
Wang (王淨) as Xiao Jing, Lee Lee-zen (李李仁) as Chi-wen
Running time: 129 minutes
Languages: Mandarin and English with Chinese and English subtitles
Taiwan release: In theaters
Imagine if poor people were polled on why they drove beat up old cars. Imagine if that poll had several answers, which were “might want a better car if possible,” “want a better car as soon as possible,” “waiting on it” and “don’t want a better car.” Imagine if most people answered “waiting on it” and then, disregarding all other data, from that a scholar concluded that most poor people don’t want to drive a better car. That conclusion is absurd, and yet that is one we have seen again and again in describing the preferences of Taiwanese for the
Foreign viewers at the Cannes premiere of Moneyboys (金錢男孩) may not have noticed the glaring incongruities that persist through the movie, but Taiwanese viewers certainly will. They’re apparent to the point that it’s difficult to enjoy the movie. First of all, the entire film is obviously shot in Taiwan, but the plot is set in fictional locales in southern China, with most secondary characters, passersby and television announcers speaking in Beijing-accented Mandarin. This melancholy tale revolves around gay sex workers in China and the unique challenges they face, especially regarding traditional expectations, including marriage, and the large-scale rural-to-urban migration of
Nov. 29 to Dec. 5 Every time Chu Chen (朱震) flew deep into enemy territory, he knew there was a good chance he wasn’t coming back. With two-thirds of the Black Bat Squadron — 148 members — perishing between 1953 and 1967, the odds were not on his side. Chu had several brushes with death during his six years with the CIA-supported Bats, once surviving only because his Chinese attacker ran out of ammunition. But he pulled through each time and completed a total of 33 missions, the squadron’s second highest. He lived to the age of 86, receiving a presidential
My goals were straightforward. I’d ride my motorcycle from my home in Tainan along back-country roads into Kaohsiung’s Tianliao (田寮) and Cishan (旗山) districts, then loop back through Yanchao (燕巢). I had a short list of places I wanted to visit along the way, and I was confident I’d stumble across a few more points of interest. Turning off Provincial Highway 19A (19甲), I veered northeast on Tainan Local Road 163 (南163) until I saw a sign for Daping (大坪). Like 163, this second (and apparently unnumbered) road turned out to be a gently undulating rural delight. I passed a few