Seven Days in Heaven -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- The debut film by co-directors Wang Yu-lin and Essay Liu is something of a maverick in light of the majority of Taiwanese cinema that finds audiences outside the country. Not only is "Seven Days in Heaven" a departure from the comfort zone that sees one vaguely romantic comedy after another come down the pipe, its main subject is death and how we deal with it.

Mature and thoughtful without being heavy-handed and completely humorless, "Seven Days" is an ironically pleasant diversion that should do well at home if not much beyond that.

"Seven Days in Heaven" may not possess the gallows humor of more cutting or satirical funerary films ("Big Shot's Funeral," "Harold and Maude"), but it does have a dark low-key charm not ordinarily the purview of Taiwanese cinema. General, digital and Asian-themed festivals are likely to snap this up, though even limited theatrical release outside Asia is a longshot.

After Lin Guo-yuan dies, his children, friends, and the local Taoist priest see to the traditional seven-day mourning ritual. We learn about who Lin was only in flashback, as each of the characters reflects on his or her relationship with him. In turns absurdly funny, borderline sentimental, and emotionally astute, Wang and Liu (who also wrote the screenplay) find the validity in every kind of response to death anyone could possibly have. And if nothing else, "Seven Days" should be remembered for its creative use of "Hava Nagila."

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The film has a gracefully shifting palette that codes each character's headspace: daughter Mei moves through a melancholy blue space when she recalls her youth; her unfocused brother Da-zhi lives in murky red-browns. Yi, the priest in charge of the ritual has his own particular multi-colored world, which includes a peaceful rooftop hideout where he can practice his opera. Photographer Fu Shih-Ying, who has the audacity to light each sequence properly, captures all of it in vivid digital.

No single performance stands out simply because no single character is central. Wang and Liu bounce them off each other, allowing the differing reactions to act as segments of a larger puzzle. The whole is relative, but when viewed as a single picture the diversity found in our reactions to the one fact of life that binds us shines through clearly.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival Filmart/Asian Digital Competition
Sales: Power Workshop
Production company: Magnifique Creative Media
Cast: Wang Li-Wen, Wu Tai-po, Chen Cha-Shiang
Director: Wang Yu-lin and Essay Liu
Screenwriter: Essay Liu
Producer: Wang Yu-lin
Director of Photography: Fu Shih-Ying
Production Designer: Vovi Huang, Hsu Shuo-feng
Editor: Wang Yu-lin
No rating, 94 minutes
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