By Jessica Sung
When I saw the title “Big Day”, I guessed that this Taiwanese film was about marriage or death. But since it is part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, I also knew it wasn’t going to be bland. That’s because VIFF’s lineup always makes me imagine a new world.
In Taiwan, walking in alleys is a part of daily life. In the 23-minute “Big Day”, director Chung Chieh Chiang makes use of this familiar pastime to tell the story of a middle-aged couple whose marriage is on the rocks. The wife (Li Li Pan) and the husband (An Shun Yu) stroll through alleys, reflecting on their family situation. Their conversation is emotional and caring, and seems so authentic to anyone from Taiwan,
It turns out that this short film is set in my hometown of Keelung. Famed Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou chose this northern port as a setting for two of his feature films—A City of Sadness and Millennium Mambo. Whereas Hou depicted Keelung as a city of repressed feelings and untold stories, Chiang plays up its romantic side while retaining some of its mystery.
“Big Day“ relies on the middle-aged couple to tell a story of Taiwanese love. The film also raises important and uncomfortable questions. Why does it seem in middle age that love no longer has new possibilities, unlike when you were 20 years old? How is it that some people are unable to say “I’m sorry” to their partner? Or not being able to say “goodbye” or “I don’t like it” or “thank you” to a partner?
Why is it in middle age that we won’t leave a partner because we need to save face? Why don’t we want to admit in midlife that we have failed in our most important relationship? Is there a risk of self-identifying as the failed relationship and nothing more?
This may be the extreme blindness of some Asian women’s affection. It’s like being in an alley, waiting for the loved one to “come back” home.
In “Big Day”, a conversation between the couple and a neighbour on the bridge reminded me of my parents’ daily interactions. While alive, Asian couples sometimes show affection through bickering. After one of them dies, the other one misses them, continuing to dream of their presence—even if those dreams involve the same type of bickering that occurred while they were together in life.
Is it baggage or affection?
The Vancouver International Film Festival will present Big Day as part of its International Shorts: Relational Baggage program. Screenings are scheduled at 6 p.m. on on Sunday (October 1) and 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday (October 3) at International Village 8. For more information and tickets, visit the VIFF website.