Reviewed by Adrian Sim
Director: Wang Shaudi
Writing Credits: Huang Liming, Wang Shaudi
Cast: Chen Guangbo, Chen Jixia, Chen Shiang-Chyi
Genre: Family drama
Year Released: 2004
Runtime: 97 min
Bear Hug is a surprisingly perceptive, sharply written and immensely moving portrait of a family on the verge of breakdown. It is seen through the eyes of a disenfranchised latchkey kid, Da Jun.
From the start, I was sucked into the sad life of Da Jun....
- his almost nonexistent mother who only appears in his dreams...
- a nagging father who is concerned more about lifes superficialities, like exam grades (a recurring theme)
- no friends
Through the film's parallel perambulations of a gradually alienated Da Jun (his falling grades, his looming sense of loneliness), and his socially ostracized fat babysitter (issues with overweight, and abandoned by her family), we get a melancholic sense of the instability of the modern-day Taipei family.
What I love about this film is the overwhelming sense that the scriptwriter and director has genuine care for the characters. There is nothing pretentious about the entire no-(artistic)-frills affair. Everything rings with a sense of truth and universality.
Even the use of the polar bear as a metaphor for the relationship between Da Jun and his mum (cameo-ed by the ravishing Chen Shiang-Chyi) does not feel strained.
Bear Hug is a masterfully made social satire that confidently balances pathos and ethos, and deftly mixes melodrama (which is normally not my cup of tea), black comedy and childlike flights of fantasy (through some apt animation).
It is a film that is unlikely to be on most people's must-watch list since they would clearly be opting for the ones with radical-sounding and highfalutin themes. But Bear Hug should be one of the safer bets at the Singapore International Film Festival 2005.
Do give this charming, unassuming film a chance! And bring the kids, as it is a thoroughly accessible film.
And my! What a lush ending in the snowscape, reminding me of the sad yet optimistic ending of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Lovely, just lovely!
Wang Shaudi is certainly one of Taiwans independent voices that I shall be looking out in future, alongside Cheng Wen-Tang and Hung Hung.