'HERE' by Ho Tzu Nyen

The suspicious eyes of a wrinkled, weathered skinned man, He Zhi Yuan, follows a trail of cracks on the ceiling until it reaches the TV wires. With a nasty boom, the TV set is turned on, displaying images of a coup in Thailand. The images seem to utter something to his mind - a virtual time bomb. This cuts to him delivering a tight slap over his wife's face for turning on the TV set. All these happen in a setting that seems a little too spartan, stylised to be real and gritty. But one the other hand, the unnerving silence also gets you under your skin.
HERE's breakthrough as a film on mental illness is in the way it uses form more than content to delivers its intended effect on the audience. Unlike other 'mental' films like 'A Beautiful Mind' where we are witnessing a disorder, here, we partake in it and go through a parallel journey with the patients. So there are no freak show. We see shades of their disorders surfacing in the interviews that they grant the camera, but never in-your-face. You almost view the subjects through clinical glasses, which allows us to understand their conditions more clearly rather cloud our notions with a dozen other cultural, social or even supernatural overtones.
In the fictitious Island Hospital (for mental patients), patients consent to be put through an experimental cure. In this, they are asked to re-enact moments of distress from their own lives. These acts are filmed and then being watched in a screening later. The cure rides on the mechanics of introspection, provided if you are not too adamant or self-righteous. So while viewing the antics of these patients, you are also led to ponder about the power of film and its ability to 'mirror' off things you may fail to see. For a filmmaker whose films often play around with form, this stays in line with his usually surprising repertoire.
The reinventing of form also extends to the way characters are introduced. Characters speak individually to the camera, which represents the point of view of a filmmaker who has sought out to document the experiences of these patients. The dialogue between the camera and the characters also has some variation among certain characters created a rich social texture. For He Zhi Yuan (the man who hit his wife), he has speech problems and communicates through transcripting his thoughts onto a scrap book. There are also the Nepali speaking Valentino and the auntie who rants in Mandarin in the video. The effect of all these makes the film an experiential journey that brings the viewer closer to the patient. We are also not brought too close in a way that would put us out of perspective. There is no excessive drama. Neither is there an attempt to put the mental problems in a social-cultural context. In short, it is clinical.
However, the film does not leave you with just a laboratory view of an issue. There is actually a sentimental tenor to it towards the end. Add that to an overrding atmosphere that haunts you even after you leave the cinema and face your own walls at home. I attribute this to the matrimony its characters, its location and its aural qualities. In fact, the building (where Island Hospital stands) is like another character itself, lurking in our sub-consciousness as we watch the film. Its weather-beaten, grimy walls reverbrating with the melancholic (almost foresaken) tunes of the Chinese song (about being lost) moves me as much as it chills me. If there was a defining shot of the film, it would how the camera tracks across the Renoir painting of a party as that Chinese song drifts on. A forsaken painting of an occasion of merry-making. A song of misdirection over an image of party guests dressed to their nines.


I would not say I am left with answers to the issues presented in the film. Instead, it has opened up far more questions than it can answer - not that the film aims to answer them. But it is easy to see that had the questions been answered, we would have left the film without a whiff of its haunting spirit.


p.s. If I am not wrong, Ho Tzu Nyen's Chinese name in Hanyu Pinyin should be He Zhi Yuan, the name of the man who strangled his wife.

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