My Little Honey Moon 野蓮香
Contemporary family drama
2012, colour, 16:9, 99 mins
Directed by Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 07 June 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Low-key drama of a Vietnamese wife in a southern Taiwan village lacks punch. Asian events.
Meinung, southern Taiwan, the present day. Hsiao Tien-hsin (Hung Chi-yang), eldest daughter of the Hsiao family, marries Tzu-chiang (Chang Chung-jui) and leaves the village. Left behind are her younger brother Tien-fu (Chen Chu-sheng), his Vietnamese wife of six years Chiung-e (Helen Thanh Đào), their young daughter Yu-ping (Teng Chih-hsuan), and Tien-fu's mother Huang Wei-mei (Chiang Ching-hsia). Chiung-e helps her husband in their small vegetable farming business and is resisting family pressure to have a second child as she thinks they can't afford it. At school, Yu-ping is uncommunicative but shows a talent for drawing; she's encouraged by one of the teachers, aboriginal Sun Ming-chen (Yangui'e Yasiungu), whose hobby is photography and who befriends Chiung-e as a fellow "outsider". Feeling pressure to earn more money now he's head of the family, Tien-fu considers starting up a prawn-breeding business and, when he borrows the house's title deeds one day as a guarantee, his mother accuses Chiung-e of stealing the documents. Some time later, their fields are heavily hit by a typhoon and, when Tien-fu discovers Chiung-e has been taking contraceptive pills, tensions explode. Chiung-e sets out on the road with Yu-ping to visit Ming-chen, who's moved to Taitung.
Though it's his most accessible and straightforward feature to date, with none of the pretentiousness that marred Do Over 一年之初 (2006) and Yang Yang 陽陽 (2009), director CHENG Yu-chieh 鄭有傑's My Little Honey Moon 野蓮香 (2011) is still too slight for its own good at almost 100 minutes. One of a series of four films, produced by Ang LEE 李安's younger brother Khan LEE 李崗, centred on immigrant wives in Taiwan, Honey Moon is more about a marital squabble than cross-cultural tensions per se. The script takes a softly-softly approach to its main character of a young Vietnamese mother living in a southern Taiwan village — so much so, in fact, that there's hardly any real drama in the whole movie.
The problem is only exacerbated by the central performance of Vietnam-born, half-Taiwanese actress Helen Thanh Đào 海倫清桃 | 阮菁桃 (real name: Nguyễn Thanh Đào), 28, who's very photogenic as the devoted, submissive wife — scaling down her sexy image from White Dollars Đô la trắng (2005) — but doesn't have much to work with beyond that. Theatre actor CHEN Chu-sheng 陳竹昇 is also okay in a low-key way as her husband, but the most meaningful scenes are actually between the wife and an aboriginal female teacher, played by striking singer-model Yangui'e Yasiungu 安歆澐, who befriends her — two "outsiders" in the Hakka Taiwanese community who bond as far as society and convention will allow them. (There are vague hints that the teacher may also be lesbian.)
The closest the film gets to tackling its underlying subject is in a brief subplot where the wife is accused of thieving by her barely tolerant mother-in-law (played by veteran CHIANG Ching-hsia 江青霞 with a blend of niceness and condescension), but the main cause of the wife's eventual rebellion seems half-baked. Director Cheng, whose own father lived in Japan, clearly has an interest in immigrant/outsider issues — Yang Yang was explicitly about a half-European character — but has yet to formulate them into a dramatically compelling format.
On a technical level, the movie is fine, with especially good photography of summertime southern Taiwan by LIAO Ching-yao 廖敬堯 that's free of the handheld artiness of Yang Yang. The other films in the series, under the overall title We Are Family (内人外人), are The Golden Child 金孫 (2011) by CHOU Hsu-wei 周旭薇, also centred on a Vietnamese woman; The Happy Life of Debbie 黛比的幸福生活 (2011) by FU Tien-yu 傅天余, about an Indonesian; and The Moonlight in Jilin 吉林的月光 (2011) by CHEN Hui-ling 陳慧翎, focused on a Mainland Chinese.
ContactSales: Khan Entertainment, Taipei (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: New Taipei City Film Festival (co-opening film), 27 Apr 2012. Theatrical release: Taiwan, 11 May 2012.
Presented by Videoland (TW). Produced by Khan Entertainment (TW). Executive producer: Jessica Chen. Producer: Khan Lee.
Script: Liu Hsueh-jung, Khan Lee, Cheng Yu-chieh. Photography: Liao Ching-yao. Editing: Hsu Hung-yuan. Costume design: Chen Chiu-ling. Sound: Chen Yi-wei, Tsai Hsiang-sheng.
Cast: Helen Thanh Đào (Chiung-e/Joan), Chen Chu-sheng (Hsiao Tien-fu, her husband), Chiang Ching-hsia (Huang Wei-mei), Yangui'e Yasiungu (Sun Ming-chen, the teacher), Teng Chih-hsuan (Hsiao Yu-ping, the daughter), Lawrence Ko (Ho Chih-kang, teacher), Hung Chi-yang (Hsiao Tien-hsin, Tien-fu's sister), Huang Yu-ching-hsuan (Chiu-hsiang, Chiung-e's Vietnamese friend), Chang Chung-jui (Tzu-chiang, Tien-hsin's husband), Pi Chih-kang (Chiu-hsiang's husband), Yang Jui-hsia (teacher), Kao Ming-wei (Chen, Tien-fu's school friend), Feng Chih-jen (Liu), Chiu Te-sen (Chung), Lin Szu-yu (policewoman), Li Ko-hsin (fruit-salad seller).