You are probably not ever going to see this movie because you don’t live in Taiwan and you don’t follow Taiwanese films, even ones with English-language subtitles such as 2019’s touching family drama titled ”Dad’s Suit.”
In this tender and warm 90-minute film with both with Chinese-language dialogue and Taiwanese-language dialogue (two different languages, not related to each other at all) an elderly rural widower named “Chin-mao” (played by the outstanding veteran Taiwanese actor Hou-tao Hsiao, stage name for Mr Tsang-hsi Ou who was born in 1947 in southern Taiwan, faces life alone after his wife of over 50 years has passed away. He lives alone in a rural tourist town outside Taipei, while his adult son and daughter, both married, live in the concrete jungle of the crowded capital city of Taipei.
I saw the movie recently in quiet movie theater in southern Taiwan where an audience of young and old Taiwanese movie goers watched the tender film about the trials and tribulations of old age with tears of recognition and a few rounds of muffled laughter here and there in some of the comic scenes.
I loved the movie, and the English subtitles allowed me to participate as a non-Taiwanese in a family drama that deserves an international audience someday, perhaps on DVD.
The story in a Taiwanese nutshell: One sunny afternoon, while cleaning his yard in the picturesque hills surrounding the popular weekend tourist town he lives in, Chin-Mao falls off a wooden chair while he is standing on it to reach some debris in a tree branch above him. Unable to move on the ground and in terrible pain, he is found by neighbors and taken by ambulance to a hospital in Taipei.
Cut to: His grown children, a roving house painter son and and a Taipei office worker daughter, join him in the hospital and the family bonds begin to both grow and shred. Arguments ensue about medications, doctors, and a possible move to a crowded nursing home in the big city.
And in the middle of all this drama, Chin-Mao’s 30-something grandson is about to get married and his pretty fiance is pregnant. Joy and sorrow bookend this powerful and touching Taiwanese movie released nationwide in 2019.
The film marks the cinema debut of Taiwanese TV director Mr Po-hao Hung, and Australian film critic Grant Watson, who saw “Dad’s Suit” in Taipei in 2018 when he flew in from Sydney to attend the nation’s Golden Horse Film Festival as a foreign jury member, called it “a low-key film that is small in scale and intimate in tone.”
”Altogether it is a modest but charming film,” Watson said, adding: “At its center stands Hou-tao Hsaio in the lead role of Chin-mao. The film introduces him in an understated fashion: an elderly neighbor has just died with Chin-mao reacting stoically from his front window. He is effectively waiting his turn. He spends his days quietly, mostly pottering around his garden and vegetable patch, and largely in solitude. Hsiao is wonderfully engaging in the role with a charmingly cantankerous manner, and as his children try to convince him to accept more care his constant resistance makes him all the more likable for the audience.”
The Taiwanese actress Phoebe Huang is sensational as Chin-mao’s caring and compassionate daughter. My eyes were glued on her whenever she appeared in a key scene, and she won me over right from the beginning. This is an actress to watch. The international director Ang Lee, who grew up in the city where the actor who plays Chin-Mao is from, should put her in one of his next films.
“Her performance is heartfelt and emotive, and deeply touching, “Grant Watson says on his blog from Australia, adding: “I am keen to see Huang in some other films given the strength of her acting here.” He liked the film. I loved it.
”Dad’s Suit” is a small-scale domestic drama from Taiwan and it offers international audiences a useful lens into the deeper parts of Taiwanese culture that one never sees in newspaper headlines or BBC news shows. It’s what art and cinema are all about: empathy. If you can find it on DVD, see it.
It’s not from Communist China. It’s from free and democratic and colorful Taiwan, what I call ”tasty, tantalizing, terrific Taiwan.” A place of its own, with a culture worth knowing.