Director: Yang Li-chou
Plot: The flood caused by the devastating typhoon 88 destroyed the village of Jiaxian. Children in Jiaxian Elementary School trained and fought hard to bring the honour back in the tug-of-war games. Their courage inspired the adults whose faith was swept away by the flood.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
I first heard of Yang Li-chou from the Singapore Chinese Film Festival. Some of his works have been screened here in Singapore, including Bridge Over Troubled Water. His latest, a commissioned project by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture, called The Moment: Fifty Years of Golden Horse (2014) will be screening at this year's edition of the festival.
After finally seeing Bridge Over Troubled Water amid my busybee film reviewing schedule, I am positively taken aback by Yang's outstanding skill as a documentarian. Though it shouldn't have come as a surprise as Yang has been widely regarded, at least in the circles of Chinese documentary filmmaking, one of the most prominent figures of the medium.
Centering on the aftermath of the August 8 typhoon on the Taiwanese village of Jiaxian, the documentary focuses on the social dynamics of the community that has suffered immense losses, with their morale at an all-time low.
The kids, however, do tug-of-war in school, a sport that builds their mental strength and perseverance. They take part in the national competition, seeking glory (and hope for a better future). Their heroic efforts inspire the adults of the community to believe in themselves, particularly the foreign wives who find themselves in a land that is indifferent towards them.
As inspiring a documentary as it can get, Bridge Over Troubled Water is infused with hope and immeasurable optimism in light of sheer adversity. Why Yang's film avoids the clichés of emotional manipulation that are common in documentaries whose sole aim is to inspire is because of his structural approach.
With the beat of tug-of-war forming the backbone of the film, and the spectre of the 8/8 disaster as context, the film brings together disparate strands, of individual stories that when brought together help paint a richer and deeper portrait of the village community. To be able to explore numerous topics – sport, food, way of life, farming, marriage, mother-child dynamics, singing and performance, without losing sight of the human condition is remarkable.
Yang and his cameraman appear in the documentary too, as they crack jokes, and have fun with filming. It is with this spirit and love that the film was made – what emanates ultimately from the subjects of the documentary is an unbridled feeling of joy, stemming from a newfound sense of self-worth.
Verdict: As inspiring a documentary as it can get, this will instill in you the hope for a better future through courage, perseverance and love.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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