My Elder Brother in Taiwan 酒是故鄉濃
2012, colour, 16:9, 85 mins
Directed by Ho Wi Ding (何蔚庭)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 18 June 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Slim but likeable second feature by the director of Pinoy Sunday. Asian events, plus some other festival play.
Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the present day. Sunday: Pan Hua-chin (Ting Chiang) meets his younger sister, Pan Huafeng (Song Xiaoying), and her daughter Li Yingchen (Zhao Wenxue) at the airport when they arrive from China. The siblings haven't seen each other in 60 years; Huafeng has come for a cross-straits medical conference, intending to stay until Friday. Eager to make an impression, Hua-chin, who says he works in import-export, puts them up at a luxury hotel and invites them to a splashy dinner. In fact, he works as a cleaner at the hotel and has managed to get three days' holiday and a three-month advance on his wages, as he is an old friend of the father of the assistant manager, Wang Mu-shan (Deng Fei). Monday: driven by Mu-shan in a hotel car, Hua-chin and Huafeng visit their father's funerary urn, though Hua-chin is forced to hide when he sees the hotel's manager, Keng Ya-nan (Winnie Chang), also there by chance. Tuesday: Hua-chin takes Huafeng and Yingchen to Taipei for sightseeing, while Ya-nan ticks off Mu-shan for surreptitiously helping Hua-chin and giving him holiday time. Wednesday: Mrs. Wang (Lee Mei-hua), a maid at the hotel, asks Huafeng to visit her sick husband. Hua-chin, who lives opposite, hears Huafeng and her daughter outside and hides away in his small, run-down old house. Over the next two days, Hua-chin finds it harder and harder to conceal the truth from his sister and niece.
Pinoy Sunday 台北星期天 (2009), the first feature by Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based director HO Wi Ding 何蔚庭, was slim but very likeable, and the same adjectives could be applied to his second full-length movie, My Elder Brother in Taiwan 酒是故鄉濃. A gentle comedy-of-manners about a Mainlander who visits her elder brother in Taiwan after a gap of 60 years — only to find he's hiding a guilty secret — says far more in its simple, unambitious way about the emotional side of cross-straits family reunions and the way in which "face" is all-important than, say, recent food movie Joyful Reunion 飲食男女 好遠又好近. It also shows Ho, though still painting on an intimate, small canvas, really developing from his origins as a short film director into a feature film-maker.
Despite being divided into five chapters (Sunday to Friday) that span the visit by a Mainland doctor and her daughter to the former's elder brother in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, the movie is far less episodic than the vignette-ish Pinoy Sunday. The latter film charted two Filipinos trying to move a red sofa through the streets of Taipei one afternoon, and was basically an allegory about the outsider status of immigrants to the island. Brother has a much stronger emotional arc running through the movie as the brother does his financial utmost to ensure his relatives have a good time but hides the fact that he's actually a hotel cleaner with almost no money at all.
The audience is told about his secret early on, and the film becomes a low-key comedy as Hua-chin narrowly escapes being found out time and again. Directed in an unfussy but well-composed way, Brother is all the more moving for its absence of buckets of emotion and leaving more things unsaid than said, and the simple musical score (largely piano, plus snatches of perky music) supports director Ho's light touch. Taiwanese veteran actor TING Chiang 丁強 (the head chef in Joyful Reunion) is perfectly cast as the resilient brother, for whom "face" and family duty are everything, and he's well balanced by Mainland actresses SONG Xiaoying 宋曉英 as his younger sister and ZHAO Hanxue 趙寒雪 as her daughter, both of whom underplay their roles to fine effect.
ContactSales: Beijing New Era Filming, Beijing (email@example.com)
Premiere: Beijing Film Festival, 27 Apr 2012. Theatrical release: TBA, China; TBA, Taiwan.
Presented by Beijing New Era Filming (CN). Produced by Beijing New Era Filming (CN), Changhe Films (TW). Executive producers: Ren Yasong, Chen Tianqu.
Script: Fang Hongren, Huang Tong. Photography: Wang Ming. Editing: Lin Hongjun, Hsu Wei-yao. Music: Ren Yasong, Feng Shih-che. Art direction: Chen Tianqu. Sound: Chou Yun-peng, Chen Wei-liang, Hu Hsu-sung.
Cast: Ting Chiang (Pan Hua-chin), Song Xiaoying (Pan Huafeng, his younger sister), Zhao Wenxue (Li Yingchen, her daughter), Deng Fei (Wang Mu-shan, assistant hotel manager), Lee Mei-hua (Mrs. Wang, the room maid), Winnie Chang (Keng Ya-nan, the hotel manager), Kao Chen-peng (Lin), Kong Yen-wen (Hsiao Chuang), Li Yu-sheng (limousine driver), Yeh Chin-chun (taxi driver), Lin Li-wei (doctor).