Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir-scr Alan Yang
prd Alan Yang, Kim Roth, Charles D King, Poppy Hanks
with Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hong-Chi Lee, Yo-Hsing Fang, Kunjue Li, Joan Chen, Fiona Fu, Kuei-Mei Yang, Hayden Szeto, James Saito, Cindera Che, Mu-Yi Chen
release US/UK 10.Apr.20
20/US Netflix 1h31

chen szeto saito

ma and ko
Warm and nostalgic, this film recounts a complex, textured story that feels like it's based in a real family history. Filmmaker Alan Yang creates an almost mournful tone, as past and present circle like an even more serious Asian-American variation on This Is Us. It's all rather hushed, with only brief glimpses of the sharper elements of the characters' personalities. It's moving, but also oddly muted.
Nearing 60, Pin-Jui (Ma) reminisces about his childhood sweetheart Yuan (Fang). As a young man in Taiwan, Pin-Jui (then Lee) knew her wealthy parents wouldn't allow her to marry him, so he accepted an arranged marriage to Zhenzhen (Li then Fu) and moved to America. Now divorced, he lives near his daughter Angela (Ko), who has just split from her fiance (Szeto). Pin-Jui sees in her the same stubbornness that caused him to make some bad choices, and he begins to hope he can change things. So he tracks down Yuan (now Chen) on Facebook.
The film is beautifully shot with a vivid sense of locations and earthy, understated performances. Even with Pin-Jui's subdued voiceover narration, the constant time shifting is often difficult to follow, as some periods and people are less defined than others. It's intriguing that Pin-Jui's relationships all seem to be with women: his grandmother, mother, daughter, Yuan and Zhenzhen. And all of them are a mess because he seems unable to express himself or empathise with anyone else.

Ma holds the audience's attention singlehandedly, bringing a superb internal thoughtfulness that says more with his eyes than his words. Otherwise, Pin-Jui is so stony that he's not easy to sympathise with. Lee is also solid as the younger Pin-Jui, just as reserved as he marries the wrong girl and finds America the opposite of paradise. The surrounding cast is large, with different actors playing characters at various points in their lives. The always luminous Chen lights up the screen when she turns up as the older Yuan.

Yang directs scenes to move as if in slow motion, sometimes not moving at all. But they are cleverly edited together as events echo each other across time and place. This of course reflects the central theme: Pin-Jui doesn't know how to talk to his daughter simply because she's just like him, and maybe that's the place where they can finally begin to connect with each other. The heavy melancholy that hangs over this film makes it somewhat difficult to engage with, but the story is lovely.

cert pg themes, language 6.Apr.20

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