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  Publicity Stills of
"Not Without You"
(Courtesy of Festive Films)

In Hakka, Min Nan and Mandarin
Director: Leon Dai
Cast: Chen Wen-Pin, Chao Yo-Hsuan, Lin Chih-Ju
RunTime: 1 hr 35 mins
Released By: Festive Films
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/nopuedo/

Opening Day: 24 December 2009


Based on a true story and powered by a gripping and very natural realism, No puedo vivir sin ti (Spanish for ‘I can’t live without you’) tells the story of Li Wu-hsiung, a middle-aged man in Taiwan who makes a meagre living by doing odd-jobs for little money (and sometimes even putting his own life at risk). He has a young girl whose mother went away years ago, leaving father and daughter alone – and very much together. However Li is not her legal guardian, a situation which becomes a problem when he tries to enrol her in school so that she can have a better future. The government decides it's in the child's best interest to remove her from his care. He does everything he can to get her back, leading to a desperate standoff in front of the media and the world.

Based on a true story, it conveys a quest of love that knows no bounds.

Movie Review:

Before this reviewer begins talking about the highly acclaimed Taiwanese film “Not Without You”, here’s a local news snippet you should know. Just last month, a Singapore High Court judge returned custody of a 7-year old girl taken away by Child Protection Services (CPS) from her parents back to their care. The child had apparently been taken away during school hours and placed subsequently in a children’s home. Her parents were only informed after the deed, but did not know why she was being separated from them. They were also not allowed to visit the girl at the children’s home, or at school and its vicinity.

Leon Dai’s unassuming movie is also based on a similar true story back in Taiwan. In 2003 Taipei, a lowly, uneducated man threatened to jump off a pedestrian bridge with his 7-year old daughter after the authorities threatened to take her away from him. Their reason- he was not the legal guardian of the child, even though he is her biological father, as her mother was already married to someone else when the child was conceived. So unless her absent mother and nonexistent stepfather relinquished care of the child, the authorities were going to take her away.

Really, the questions that beg answering are these- does the state always know better? Is the state a better parent than a child’s own? Does the state always know what’s best for the child’s upbringing? And in what circumstances should the state intervene to remove a child from his/her parent(s)’ care? Indeed, “Not Without You” will have you thinking about these questions as it tells a simple yet genuinely touching story of a father who, though poor, has held nothing back from providing for his daughter.

In portraying the bond between father and daughter, director Leon Dai shows admirable restraint from typical melodrama. Instead, he displays their kinship through the rhythm they share as they go about their everyday lives- the daughter peering off the deck of a bumboat patiently waiting for her father who has gone ship repairing deep underwater or the daughter pulling up their catch of the day while her father prepares to cook dinner.

Such routine events are interspersed with other spontaneous happenings- in particular, there is a gentle episode where the father offers the sweeter fruit to his daughter after one supports the other to pluck fruits from a roadside tree. Quite surprisingly, there are no mentions of “I love you” or overt hugs or kisses throughout the movie. There is no need to- for in their little actions, the audience is shown and feels the immense love between father and daughter.

Of course, this becomes a perfect setup when the authorities finally catch up to the father. By then, your sympathies are firmly with this man, an unfortunate victim of bureaucracy that has scant regard for the very people and their families most affected by its workings. That sense of injustice one feels is further compounded by the empty promises these bureaucrats make, who seem unsympathetic to the common man helpless against an overly rigid and impersonal system.

That sentiment no doubt struck a chord in the hearts of many Taiwanese viewers, and propelled the movie to sweep the most number of trophies at the recently-concluded Golden Horse Awards, including Best Picture. It is even more starkly when told in monochrome- director Leon Dai wanting to relate the story in an almost-documentary fashion to underscore the reality behind it.

To know that it actually happened only drives home further the myriad of emotions and thoughts running through one’s head from watching this poignant movie- anger, injustice, empathy, frustration. Some may say that it is a one-sided portrayal and that it is, but the movie is no less compelling because of it. Rather, it is an awakening against nonchalance and complacency, a reminder that the ones who may suffer as a result are real people and real families. Besides, if our local incident is anything to go by, what’s depicted here in Taiwan as a consequence of that indifference may one day hit home.

Movie Rating:

(Genuinely moving and affecting, this is one of the best social dramas of the year)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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