Thursday, 29 January 2009

Gua Sha - The Treatment (2001)

Life is full of surprises. I religiously scour the German television schedules (which I receive by satellite) for oddities, particularly on the German/French arts channel Arte. I have found most of my silent collection there; for example, last week they showed a 2007 restoration of Intolerance (1916) and their selection of unusual cinema is matchless. The only problem with them (and all of the other German channels) is their propensity for overdubbing rather than relying on subtitles.

I noticed the above Taiwanese film in the afternoon schedules and didn't bother to check it out; I just noted that it was starring Tony Leung and I assumed it would be something pretty special. Well for a start it wasn't the Tony Leung of the recent Wong Kar Wai and Ang Lee films but the actor of the same name who starred in "The Lover" (1992), who is also a fine actor but not the one I was expecting. The next surprise is that this was a modern-day drama, set and filmed in St. Louis, Missouri and written primarily in English, which led to the very pleasant surprise that the movie was not dubbed but used German subtitles for the dialogue which switched between English and Mandarin (and I was able to cope with these for the brief non-English dialogue).

But enough about the background: the final surprise was how involving the story was. Leung plays a prize-winning computer game designer, who, together with his equally intelligent wife and US-born 6-year son, is trying to assimilate into the American life style and the American dream. He has brought over his non-English-speaking father from the mainland and hopes to obtain a green card for him. When the child falls at home and is taken to hospital for stitches, the doctors note the extreme bruising on his back and conclude that he has been abused; and the do-gooder social workers immediately remove the cosseted child from his home and very loving parents. All attempts to explain that the bruising is the result of an ancient Chinese health treatment known as Gua Sha -- and in fact administered by the grandfather -- do not impress the ignorant court and they deem the child permanently at risk. The Child Services lawyer takes pleasure in presenting the father as a violent man -- based on the kind of games he designs -- and provokes him into losing his temper in court which hardly helps his case. I don't want to go on to explain how this situation develops and how it resolves itself, even if the film does not appear to be on DVD at present, as the possible spoilers are many. I will just mention that the penultimate scenes involve Leung in a Santa Claus suit climbing up the drainpipe to the family's ninth floor apartment with a toy monkey in his arm -- real heart in your throat action. I could do with a lot more surprises like this one.
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