In the 2020 Taiwanese film ‘Little Big Women’, a matriarch and her three daughters struggle to come to terms with the loss of a man who had been absent in their lives for almost twenty years, yet fresh in their memories like it was all yesterday. Directed by Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu, it’s an emotional tale of family, sisterhood and marriage.
At the centre of the story is Lin Shoying (Chen Shu-fang), a self-made woman, whose estranged husband dies on her 70th birthday. She refuses to halt her birthday celebrations, but eventually gives the father of her three daughters a grand funeral, even if grudgingly. What comes next is the untangling of emotions Shoying and her daughters experience, as they try to bid farewell to a man who had left them a long time ago.
Shoying’s youngest daughter Jiajia (Ke-Fang Sun) helps run her restaurant, while the eldest is a freewheeling dancer Ching (Hsieh Ying-xuan) and the middle one is a wealthy doctor Yu (Vivian Hsu). She also has a grand-daughter called Clementine, a lovely curious child, whose doctor mother wants to pack her away to America for further studies. ‘Little Big Women’ is the story of these ordinary women and the challenges life throws them. The film is leisurely paced and might test the patience of a lot of viewers, but it gives us an endearing glimpse into the lives of flawed but strong women. There’s a lot of light, witty, relatable family banter and the warm relationship between the three sisters is lovingly executed. They are united in terror of their strict mother, and in their love for a father who was barely there for them.
The cinematography is pretty captivating, right from the bustling fish-market at the start, to the blue waters of the Taiwanese shore. Everything is shot artistically. For non-natives, the film offers interesting insights into their culture and beliefs, which is revealed through the funeral rituals. What I really liked was how the director manages to lighten up even the sadder moments in the film with casual clever witticism. But a lot of moments are dragged longer than needed.
The strength of this film is its storytelling and the simple ways in which the makers show how irrational love can be. Shoying’s relationship with her estranged husband is revealed in flashbacks and we see how a strong-willed woman chases her man with a butcher’s knife and yet forgives all his philandering in a heart-beat. As Shoying and her girls lose the man they loved with all their heart, they must now learn to let go. A little bit of chopping by the director on the run-time would’ve greatly benefited the story.
Despite its short-comings, ‘Little Big Women’ was a thoroughly enjoyable fare and is a 8/10 for me. (The film is available to stream on Netflix)
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