Editor’s Note: The arts and entertainment department is adjusting its grading scale from a letter-grade system to a numeric score out of 5. This change is intended to increase accuracy and consistency between reviews.
May 24, 2017, marked an important day for Taiwan, as the Judicial Yuan (the constitutional court of Taiwan) made an unprecedented ruling to legalize gay marriage.
It is a direct response to a gradual rise in transparency and acceptance for LGBTQ+ rights in Taiwan — something that Hui-chen Huang’s “Ri Chang Dui Hua” (“Small Talk”) and its nominations for Best Documentary and Best Film Editing at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards demonstrate.
“Ri Chang Dui Hua” is a personal dissection of Huang and her mother Anu’s past that is geared toward understanding Huang’s own present. Through this revelatory process, Huang is able to confront issues of sexuality, patriarchy, gender roles and mental health in Taiwan.
The film brilliantly sifts through two decades’ worth of documentation that plays a vital role in revealing something profound about both Huang and her mother.
Interviews with Anu’s extended family members address the way in which discussions of sexuality are met with disconcerting silence. It’s a telling reflection of the stronghold of conventionality in Taiwan. Anu’s family deny and ignore anything regarding her sexuality, reticent because they are restrained by “what we’re supposed to do.”
Footage of Huang and her mother performing ritualistic dances and music at the Soul Guiding temple is employed to show how Huang was privy to their positions as marginalized people of Taiwan from an early age.
But Hui-chen Huang remains obstinate and determined to challenge these presupposed standards, especially if it could mean reconciliation with her mother.
Her fight does not begin on a dramatic stage. Huang does not grab a megaphone and take to the streets. Her perilous journey begins in her modest apartment, at the dinner table with an open dialogue.
Confrontations can be awkward and uncomfortable, as Anu crosses her arms and caves in when faced with her own vulnerability. Many attempts at interrogation end with silence, but each trial is a step toward progress.
At one point, Huang’s daughter endearingly approaches her grandma to find out if Anu loves her — a question that Huang Hui-chen has been asking her whole life — to which Anu answers with a conditional question, “Do you love me?”
Huang’s goal with the film is an undeniably personal one, but the honest moments in Huang’s documentary inherently create a film that resonates with everyone, no matter where they’re from or how they choose to identify themselves. After all, “love is love.”