SeaShorts 2020 Film Festival: Migrating Forms

The short film format has always been both a challenge to and a spark of inspiration for storytelling, condensing long shoots, emotional acts and complex storylines into a product restricted by length but not depth. In SeaShorts Film Festival 2020’s programme “Migrating Forms”, three Taiwanese directors take up this difficult task, conjuring scenes of home away from home amidst knotty themes of racism, family, sense of belonging and love.

It is undeniable that many beloved Taiwanese films have become a mainstay of casual film audiences’ diet, thanks to their nuanced explorations of the physical and emotional landscapes of this scenic island. In Lovely Sundays (第一廣場), directed by Hsueh Wen-shuo, we get a close look at the First Square in Taichung (often referred to as the ASEAN Square) through the eyes of the migrant workers who visit their self-proclaimed paradise.

Lovely Sundays (第一廣場), dir. Hsueh Wen-shuo (Taiwan)

Sporting lines of vendors, KTV parlours and even discos, the First Square is defined by a slightly run-down and shabby aesthetic, resembling more a maze than a mall. Perhaps that’s why Jane finds herself bumbling, taking cautious steps forward — it’s easy to get lost, both in the atmosphere and the busy-ness of the space — perhaps teetering for something or someone to ground herself. She meets (and finds herself opening up to) Randy. The hesitant Tagalog that trails between their lips and their awkward body language is more reminiscent of high schoolers on their first day of school than anything, the sort of meet-cute that seems to happen in abundance in cafes or office boulevards, rather than in the midst of the hustle and bustle that Sundays at Taichung’s “Little Southeast Asia” are known for.

Nonetheless, the loud disco music acts as an interlude for the brutality that occurs in Nine Shots (九發子彈), directed by Su Che Hsien. Based on a true story, the violence that follows is uncovered in two acts — the first following the policeman, and in the second, the father of the deceased Ah Fei, a young Vietnamese worker reported for illegal labour. 

Nine Shots (九發子彈), directed by Su Che Hsien

We never truly see Ah Fei, only bearing witness to the brutal swiftness of “justice” delivered by the policeman, uninhibited and stained with the slightest hint of glee and excitement, as he assaults a person to death. It’s hard not to relate this to the current political climate, and it’s painful to watch how the forces of prejudice and xenophobia play out without a satisfying denouement. There’s a great deal of anger and shame bubbling under the surface — one that tips to the edge of melodrama at times — but is ultimately balanced with moments of silence, almost as though grieving.

Last but not least, Arnie (阿尼), directed by Rina Tsou, is a bittersweet retelling of the lives of migrant seamen in Kaohsiung. The titular character, Arnie, dreams of lifetimes of happiness with his long-term girlfriend but is ultimately crushed by the realisation that things aren’t as calm as they seem on the surface. Far from home and emotionally burdened by his realisation, he pushes people away, building up walls in an attempt to disguise his constant yearning for home and stability (sometimes distance doesn’t make the heart fonder, only colder).

Arnie (阿尼), dir. Rina Tsou

The juxtaposition of individual misery against the mutual comfort that forms between two unlikely individuals helps to reinforce the core of the film as one of companionship and understanding. Thankfully, their relationship doesn’t fully fall prey to the multitude of clichés and “what could've been”s that are all too common in this genre, with the conclusion remaining mutably ambiguous.

Monsoon season it may be, eventually that too, will come to pass.

Written by Yap Cai Ni

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