Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Movies with deaf protagonists are risky to make. Once sign language is deployed as a cinematic tool, subtitles become mandatory.
This can pose a significant problem to filmmakers. Subtitles tend to ramp up costs and cut off a share of the audience (those who hate reading subtitles).
For this alone, Hear Me makes an admirable debut feature by Taiwanese writer-director Cheng Fen-fen.
The film’s protagonist is Yang-yang (Ivy Chen), a part-time mime who plays surrogate mum to her sister, Xiao-peng (Michelle Chen), so the latter can train for a national swim competition.
Both sisters are deaf, and their father has left them to do missionary work in Africa. (Evangelical negligence, as it were.)
Tian-kuo (Eddie Peng) is the food delivery boy (with a college degree) who falls in love with Yang-yang.
Though Tian-kuo is charming and proficient in sign language, Yang-yang feels torn about accepting the boy’s love. Part of the problem is that she thinks he’s deaf, and three deaf people in an interdependent relationship just doesn’t sound like a good idea.
It’s an implausible situation, but Cheng and her cast do remarkably well to distract us from the credibility gaps with sheer heart.
The three leads, their faces clean and expressive, are especially effective. The great chemistry between Ivy Chen and Eddie Peng lends depth and dimension to their characters, who are circumscribed by simple gestures, and even simpler lines.
As a result, despite the cheesiness of much of the film’s comedy, the foibles and heartbreaking fragility of young love comes through.
That is Cheng’s masterstroke. By focusing on the passions of the young and casting loveable, skilful actors, she mitigates against the film’s arthouse conceit and gives it commercial muscle.
As it turns out, the film was a box-office hit, grossing a record NT$26 million (S$1.1 million) in Taiwan last year.
That represents more than mere commercial success for Cheng, who catapults into the mainstream with the most unlikely of vehicles: an almost-silent romantic comedy.
About Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).