Movie Reviews

Ken reviews: Not Without You

By Ken KwekMovies - 29 December 2009 5:00 PM | Updated 10 December 2014

Ken reviews: Not Without You

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Rating: 3 out of 5

After weeks of reviewing Hollywood movies, I was relieved to be offered a chance to write about Not Without You, a Taiwanese arthouse film by second-time director, Leon Dai.

The experience was at once refreshing and frustrating.  Shot in digital monochrome, the film offers a visual grammar that is striking and starkly different from most Hollywood films.

Whether its story manages to convey thematic shades of grey as suggested by the cinematography, is another question altogether.

Co-written by Dai and lead actor Chen Wen-pin, the film centres on the life an uneducated labourer, Li Wu-hsiung.

Li lives with his seven-year-old daughter, Mei, in a squalid godown by the coast; his job includes performing manual repairs on damaged tankers—work that is illegal, not to mention insanely dangerous.

Despite their hardships, Li and Mei lead a relatively happy life. That is, until the authorities show up one day, demanding that Li register Mei’s name with the district office, so she may be enrolled in a primary school.

The revelations triggered by this action are as damning of Li’s intelligence as they are of Taiwan’s bureaucracy.

Li discovers that Mei’s mother, who abandoned them years ago, was married to someone else all along. He, in turn, as an unmarried father living illegally on government property, cannot be recognised as Mei’s legal guardian and now risks losing her to social welfare services.

Naturally, Li does everything in his limited power to retain custody of Mei—to no avail. After being rejected and humiliated by a slew of indifferent civil servants, Li snaps. He commits an act of suicidal despair, which even the most sympathetic of viewers may find distasteful.

Dai and Chen clearly feel pity – perhaps too much pity – for their beleaguered main character. The result is an unapologetically left-wing social film that is maudlin even by the standards of melodrama.

Not Without You picked up four trophies at this year’s Golden Horse Awards, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

This inevitably creates much hype for the film, which, in my opinion, does it some disservice. The film is bold, but not brilliant. Temper your expectations if you decide to buy a ticket.

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).

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Not Without You
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