Winning the Hearts of Taiwan

in 46th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

by Wei-chen Tseng

“Cannot Live Without You” (Bu neng mei you ni), a black-and-white Taiwanese film, won five major awards at the 2009 Taipei Golden Horse Film festival last weekend (Nov 28th), including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Script, Best Taiwan Cinema, and Audience Choice Award. Confronting some good films from Hong Kong and mainland China, “Cannot Live Without You” held no fear and earned the jury group’s praise for its powerful dramatization of a behind-the-headlines story.

Although some might argue that the film’s storyline is too thin and the treatment is too sentimental, no more than a typical “Father for Justice” story; nevertheless, the convincing performances of the father (Li Wu-hsiung) and his daughter (Mei), and director Dai’s powerful editing, did win the hearts of the Taiwanese audience. What’s more striking about “Cannot Live Without You” (a direct translation of its Chinese title), is that it is a rarely-seen social subject in Taiwanese cinema, which has mostly been full of love stories starring young idols for the last couple of years.

The story began with Li, a part-time ‘license-less’ diver from the South of Taiwan, clinging to the outside rim of an overpass bridge in downtown Taipei, with his daughter ‘Mei’ sandwiched between him and the bridge. It was no surprise that actor/director Leon Dai used a sarcastic tone to depict the cruelty of how news media is in covering this sad story. They were not interested in the reasons behind his behavior, but were busying characterizing him as a possible murderer or madman. The sarcastic manner continued to penetrate the two-faced officialdom in Taiwan. Li was mistreated by the bureaucratic dance, and deep frustration had driven him to act irrationally.

This silent father and daughter pair lived in the abandoned warehouse by the dock of Kao-hsiung. On Mei’s seventh birthday, it is time for her to go to school. But when Li went to register their household, he found that Mei’s mother, who had left them after Mei was born, was actually married to another man long before she met him. Therefore, although Mei was his biological daughter, he had no legal right to register Mei as his daughter. That also meant that it was against the law to live with his daughter. Mei had to be sent away to her mother, who they had no trace of. Li was anxious to solve the problem, so she could go to the school nearby. But every move he took was to lead to further disappointment. He became a desperate father. In the end, unfortunate consequences were unavoidable. Mei was taken away by the Kaohsiung Social Welfare Bureau to some foster family.

While Li was struggling with the two-faced officialdom, director Dai’s inserting of the touching flashbacks of their lives was to prove a simple but effective technique. Additionally, the setting is intriguing too and this film does manage to capture the feeling of the strong bond between the daughter and father, and the brother-like relationship between Li and his best friend. If “Cape No. 7” seized the eyes of Taiwanese audience last year, the heartfelt “Cannot Live Without You” is without doubt the Taiwanese film of the year for 2009.

Edited by Steven Yates