Dir: Heather Tsui | Drama | Taiwan, 93′
This stunning family film blends drama with an ethnological portrait of the indigenous Tao people who have lived on Orchid Island, Taiwan for nearly a century. Long Time No Sea has a convincing ring to it because it’s based on the real life experience of director Heather Tsui whose strong message very much connects with the narrative of survival for small traditional communities all over the world, while also bringing a lightness of touch.
What makes this story of a young teacher who arrives from the city so appealing is its vibrant cinematography and engaging way of putting across the challenges facing these people in a low-key and delicately drawn way, and through preparations for a dance competition which both informative and entertaining. The cast of mostly non-professionals from the Tao community add authenticity to the mix. We watch them at play and at work in the gloriously scenic settings, although it’s a pity that girls seem more or less absent from proceedings.
The story revolves around Manawei (Zhong Jia-jin) who lives with his strict but loving grandmother (Feng Ying-li). It’s traditional in the Far East for parents to work abroad for financial reasons, and this is the case here. Manawei’s father (Ou Lu) has a job on the mainland, so the boy often feels lonely and slightly deprived in comparison with the other kids. Shang He-huang plays the attractive teacher Chung-hsun, who is looking for experience before he moves on to a more senior role. He immediately hits it off with the boy, and when he learns about the bonus offered to teachers willing to coach kids for the national dance competition in Kaohsiung, he pricks up his ears. And soon there’s a love interest coming his way in the shape of Chin-yi (Zhang Ling), a local radio host.
Tsui’s script mines the dramatic potential of the competition but never feels sentimental or overwrought. The underwater scenes are impressive, particularly touching is the one where Manawei dives with his father into the Love River and is transported to Orchid Island. Occasional music from award-winning composer Cincin Lee and traditional Tao folklore songs make this impressive debut a memorable experience MT.
TAIWAN FILM FESTIVAL UK 3 – 14 APRIL 2019