Director: Hsiao Ya-chuan
Cast: Bai Run-Yin, Liu Kuan-Ting, Akio Chen, Eugenie Liu, Mugi Kadowaki, Chien-Wei Huang
Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 18 January 2024
Synopsis: In 1989, Eleven-year old Liao Jie and his father have been saving money, hoping that they will be able to buy a home of their own in three years. However, they fail to notice that the world is rapidly changing. The property prices have rockets and in the blink of an eye, their savings are not enough. In frustration, Liao Jie comes to release the harsh reality of being poor. In contrast with his father, their landlord who people call “Old Fox”, emerges as a winner and seems to be a better mentor to Liao Jie. Old Fox teaches Liao Jie how to survive in society, and that is something his father has never taught him. Nonetheless, Liao Jie ends up hurting Old Fox what he has learnt from Old Fox. On the other hand, like his father, Liao Jie is someone who always empathizes with others, and it is this quality that stops Liao Jie from being another “Old Fox”.
For a large part of this Taiwanese movie, you may be wondering what story the filmmakers are trying to tell. We first see Liao Jie (Bai Run-Yin), an 11 year old boy leading what seems like a frugal and simple life with his father Liao Tai-Lai (Liu Kuan-Ting). They stay in a rented apartment, where the water from their leaking tap is collected and used for showering. To save power, the gas from the water heater will be switched off once they are done with the hot water. Amidst this, the single father and his son are happy living with each other.
As the 112 minute film progresses, we learn that Liao Jie is bullied in school. Tai-Lai works in a restaurant and brings home leftover food for dinner. We also see that Tai-Lai plays the saxophone and knows how to sew clothes. He has a down to earth personality and wants to make an honest living, so that he can buy a home to call their own. This is something that Liao Jie is looking forward to as well, and he is sensible enough not to complain about the less than comfortable life he is leading.
Things take a turn when he trustingly hops onto an old man’s car. The man, known as Boss Xie (Akio Chen), happens to be his landlord and has the nickname “Old Fox”. This is where you also wonder where the story is headed, as the titular tycoon appears and shares his worldviews with the gullible child. It is not a bad thing though, because you will be captivated by the film’s production values to replicate what Taiwan looked like in 1989. The sets are intricately built, and you will feel nostalgic seeing the interior décor in the apartment, and how the Chinese restaurant is dressed up.
The performances from the ensemble cast are commendable too. Liu comfortably slips into his role as a man who is trying his best to make ends meet while showing his son how to live a righteous life. Bai’s wide eyed wonder anchors the film as we are reminded of how things were simpler when growing up. Chen’s charismatic portrayal of the mysteriously sly but wise “Old Fox” won him the Best Supporting Actor prize at the 60th Golden Horse Awards last year. The film was nominated in seven categories, and took home the Best Director (Hsiao Ya-chuan), Best Makeup & Costume Design (Wang Chih-cheng and Shirley Kao) and Best Original Film Score (Chris Hou) accolades. With four trophies, it was a big winner at the awards.
When the film comes to a point where Liao Jie becomes aware of what he has to do to achieve his dreams, you realise this is a coming of age story. The film succeeds in narrating an engaging father and son tale, and in the process, reminding us that there are certain events earlier in our lives that shape who we are today. The last scene in the film is especially effective and poignant in proving this point, and you will leave the theatre reflecting on how your own personality has changed since you were a child.
(This slow-burn drama boasts ourstanding production values and tells an affectionately engaging coming-of-age story)
Review by John Li