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.
Here we have another film based on real life events. And how well it works in this instance, given the approach of storytelling chosen by the director Leon Dai. As compared to his earlier work Twenty Something Taipei (2002), this is a more emotionally powerful drama guaranteed to have you moved without having to melodrama and milking your tears. Put it this way, after the film, you won't be crying buckets of them, probably shedding a few drops.
The story's protagonist is a man who lives in the harbours in Taiwan with his young daughter. He doesn't have a real stable job, and has to keep the family of two going by taking risky assignments on boats, so that there’s money to be brought home. As his daughter reaches the age of schooling, he tries to enroll her, only to get a rude shock that the government decides to take her away from him in the best of her interest. He goes all out to prevent that from happening, and culminates in an unforgettable finale that will touch the most cynical side of you.
The film's main running theme is the unconditional love that a father gives to his child. The quest for love which has no boundaries has an unbreakable bond, which forms the backbone for the film's original title "No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti", that means "unable to live without you" in Spanish.
One very simple but potent dialogue exchange in the film is enough to make this a must watch.
Father: Daughter, can you see me?
Father: But the sea is so deep, how would you be able to see me?
Daughter: I just kept looking, and looking, and looking. And then, I see you.
Much more powerful than a certain Hollywood block buster with the end credits song "I See You", we'd say.
The film is also a social commentary on how bureaucracy and the state can play an adverse role in today's society which family bonding is of utmost importance. Dai doesn't take the approach of a certain Jack Neo to comment on the situation. He chooses to tell a simple story and allow audiences to think of the messages behind the drama, letting things take their own course instead of manipulating your senses. In fact, it is interesting to note that the only coloured pictures you'd see for this DVD is its front cover. The film still does not appear in the actual movie, which is entirely in black and white. The filmmaker knows better than to taint the already effective tale with garish and brash colours.
The two main leads Chen Wen Pin and Chao Yo Hsuan effortlessly play the roles of the father and daughter with wonderful chemistry, so much so that you'd root for them from beginning to end. When the film ends on its 92nd minute, you feel that you have learnt another simple but important life lesson.
This Code 3 DVD contains a 21 minutes Interview where we learn about the inspiration of the script. The director talks about how he first saw the TV news report five years ago, and read about the background story in a journalist friend's article.
Although the movie is in black and white, its visual transfer does justice to the story. The film is presented in the original soundtrack consisting of several Chinese dialects and some Mandarin.
Review by John Li
Posted on 9 April 2010