LITTLE BIG WOMEN (孤味) (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: On Shoying’s 70th birthday, she receives the shocking news of her long-lost husband, Bochang’s death. What’s worse, there is another woman, TSAI, who stayed by Bochang till his last breath. A merry reunion now turns into a ten-day wake, an unfortunately perfect time for the family to face their complicated mother-daughter relationships. Ching, the oldest of the three daughters, has learned to downplay everything in her life to deal with an intrusive mother as Shoying. Yu, the perfect middle child, finds herself at odds with Shoying regarding her teenage daughter. Jia Jia, the youngest, fights Shoying to fulfill her father’s dying wish to come home. The three daughters remind Shoying of Bochang in different ways. She goes on the quest to find out who TSAI is. Will Shoying get the closure she has longed for all her life?
81 year old veteran Taiwanese actress Chen Shu-Fang won both the supporting actress award for Dear Tenant and best leading actress for Little Big Women at the 57th Golden Horse Award. It’s a colossal win for the iconic actress who has starred in a number of award-winning movies throughout her decades long career and her performance definitely is a big draw in this Joseph Hsu’s drama about loss, grief and healing.
Lin Shoying (Chen) is a restaurant owner in Tainan who single-handedly raises her three daughters after her womanising husband, Bochang (Long Shao-Hua) left them over twenty years ago. On her 70th birthday, she received news that Bochang has passed away and his last wish is to be buried in his hometown. Lin and her now grown up daughters, eldest Ching (Hsieh Ying-Xuan), middle-child Yu (Vivien Hsu) and the youngest Jiajia (Sun Ke-Fang) has to come together for the ten-day wake and faces the past and future together as a family.
Little Big Women brings audiences back to the early days of Ang Lee’s career where he made acclaimed intimate family dramas liked Pushing Hands and Eat Drink Man Woman. Dramas that typically consists of traditional values clashing with the new, unforeseeable conflicts between family members and an overbearing family matriarch or patriarch. Hsu who co-wrote the script with Maya Huang peppered the script with delightful revelation, touches of human connection and a bit of soap opera narrative if you don’t mind the ever so leisure pacing.
There’s a lot to take in as every events that follow seem to be triggered by the death of Lin’s estranged husband. It turned out Bochang has a loyal companion named Ms Tsai (Ning Ding) by his side all these years and Lin struggles to connect with Tsai even though she is still consumed by hatred for his husband. Since blood is thicker than water, Jiajia has been keeping in touch with her late dad and Ms Tsai without the knowledge from her siblings and mother. Ching on the other hand, the so-called free spirit of the family is struggling to keep her cancer condition under wraps. Yu the most successful of all her siblings is trying hard to send her teenage daughter, Clementine (Chen Yan-Fei) to the States to further her studies in order to give her a better life. All these issues including a lost sibling and a dark family secret adds on to all the grief and suppressed unhappiness to the somewhat broken family.
Despite all the seriousness, Hsu manages to include some need be humour and cultural references into the process. While Bochang has converted to Buddhism before he died, Lin instead opted for a Taoism funeral resulting in a hilarious mixture of loud religious rites. There’s also a funny incident that involved a cockroach in front of the altar (which Jiajia believes it’s the reincarnation of his late father) and Clementine’s belief in the return of her grandfather’s soul on the seventh day. Touches of superstitious beliefs that Chinese Asians will find relatable since most of us grew up listening to these familiar folk tales. Yet it’s these small moments that virtually sealed the appeal of these three generations of people.
Little Big Women is a touching, sentimental drama about strong-willed human beings and family relationships. It’s about finding happiness, forgiving those who erred and treasure those around you. There’s so much to take away from this richly textured small drama. The performances from the ensemble cast are zesty and superbly engaging. If you have only time for one Taiwanese title, remember to catch this wonderful drama by newcomer Joseph Hsu.
Review by Linus Tee