My Little Honey Moon
Taiwan, 2012, colour, 16:9, 99 mins.
Director: Zheng Youjie 郑有杰.
Low-key drama of a Vietnamese wife in a southern Taiwan village lacks punch.
Meinong, southern Taiwan, the present day. Xiao Tianxin (Hong Qiyang), eldest daughter of the Xiao family, marries Ziqiang (Zhang Zhongrui) and leaves the village. Left behind are her younger brother Xiao Tianfu (Chen Zhusheng), his Vietnamese wife of six years Qiong’e (Helen Thanh Đào), their young daughter Xiao Yupin (Teng Zhixuan), and Xiao Tianfu’s mother Huang Weimei (Jiang Qingxia). Qiong’e helps her husband in their small vegetable-farming business and is resisting family pressure to have a second child as she thinks they can’t afford it. At school, Xiao Yupin is uncommunicative but shows a talent for drawing; she’s encouraged by one of the teachers, aboriginal Sun Mingzhen (An Xinyun), whose hobby is photography and who befriends Qiong’e as a fellow “outsider”. Feeling pressure to earn more money now he’s head of the family, Xiao Tianfu considers starting up a prawn-breeding business and, when he borrows the house’s title deeds one day as a guarantee, his mother accuses Qiong’e of stealing the documents. Some time later, their fields are heavily hit by a typhoon and, when Xiao Tianfu discovers Qiong’e has been taking contraceptive pills, tensions explode. Qiong’e sets out on the road with Xiao Yupin to visit Sun Ming-chen, who’s moved to Taidong.
Though it’s the most accessible and straightforward feature to date by Taiwan director Zheng Youjie 郑有杰, with none of the pretentiousness that marred his Do Over 一年之初 (2006) and Yang Yang 阳阳 (2009), My Little Honey Moon 野莲香 is still too slight for its own good at almost 100 minutes. One of a series of four films produced by Li Gang 李岗 [Lee Khan], younger brother of director Li An 李安 [Ang Lee], centred on immigrant wives in Taiwan, Honey Moon is more about a marital squabble than cross-cultural tensions per se. The script takes a softly-softly approach to its main character of a young Vietnamese mother living in a southern Taiwan village – so much so, in fact, that there’s hardly any real drama in the whole movie.
The problem is only exacerbated by the central performance of Vietnam-born, half-Taiwanese actress Helen Thanh Đào 海伦清桃 (real name: Nguyễn Thanh Đào | 阮菁桃), 28, who’s very photogenic as the devoted, submissive wife – scaling down her sexy image from White Dollars Đô la trắng (2005) – but doesn’t have much to work with beyond that. Theatre actor Chen Zhusheng 陈竹昇 is also okay in a low-key way as her husband, but the most meaningful scenes are actually between the wife and an aboriginal female teacher, played by striking singer-model An Xinyun 安歆沄 [Yangui’e Yasiungu 邹女 安歆沄] who befriends her – two “outsiders” in the Hakka Taiwanese community who bond as far as society and convention will allow them. (There are vague hints that the teacher may also be lesbian.)
The closest the film gets to tackling its underlying subject is in a brief subplot where the wife is accused of thieving by her barely tolerant mother-in-law (nicely played by veteran Jiang Qingxia 江青霞 with a blend of niceness and condescension), but the main cause of the wife’s eventual rebellion seems half-baked. Director Zheng, whose own father lived in Japan, clearly has an interest in immigrant/outsider issues – Yang Yang was explicitly about a half-European character – but has yet to formulate them into a dramatically compelling format.
On a technical level, the movie is fine, with especially good photography of summertime southern Taiwan by Liao Jingyao 廖敬尧 that’s free of the handheld artiness of Yang Yang. The other films in the series, under the overall title We Are Family 内人外人 (see poster, left), are The Golden Child 金孙 by Zhou Xuwei 周旭薇, also centred on a Vietnamese woman; The Happy Life of Debbie 黛比的幸福生活 by Fu Tianyu 傅天余, about an Indonesian; and The Moonlight in Jilin 吉林的月光 by Chen Huiling 陈慧翎, focused on a Mainland Chinese.
Presented by Videoland (TW). Produced by Khan Entertainment (TW).
Script: Liu Xuerong, Li Gang [Lee Khan], Zheng Youjie. Photography: Liao Jingyao. Editing: Xu Hongyuan. Music: Shen Shengzhe, Liao Weijie. Art direction: Wu Zhonghui. Costume design: Chen Qiuling. Sound: Chen Yiwei, Cai Xiangsheng.
Cast: Helen Thanh Đào (Qiong’e/Joan), Chen Zhusheng (Xiao Tianfu, Qiong’e’s husband), Jiang Qingxia (Huang Weimei, Xiao Tianfu’s mother), An Xinyun [Yangui’e Yasiungu] (Sun Mingzhen, teacher), Teng Zhixuan (Xiao Yupin, Qiong’e’s daughter), Ke Yulun (He Zhigang, teacher), Hong Qiyang (Xiao Tianxin, Xiao Tianfu’s elder sister), Huang Yuqingxuan (Qiuxiang, Qiong’e’s Vietnamese friend), Zhang Zhongrui (Ziqiang, Xiao Tianxin’s husband), Bi Zhigang (Qiuxiang’s husband), Yang Ruixia (teacher), Gao Mingwei (Chen, Xiao Tianfu’s school friend), Feng Zhiren (Liu), Qiu Desen (Zhong), Lin Siyu (policewoman), Li Kexin (fruit-salad seller).
Premiere: New Taipei City Film Festival (Co-Opening Film), 27 Apr 2012.
Release: Taiwan, 11 May 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 7 Jun 2012.)