Exit: Filmart Review

Hong Kong Film Festival
Occasionally snail-paced drama about a woman’s middle age crises is lifted by a strong lead performance.

Emerging director Chienn Hsiang draws a resonant portrait of unfocused female angst.

Average middle-aged life, its disappointments and the fight not to fall into despair are at the heart of Chienn Hsiang’s sensitive and deliberately paced document of a woman’s transition from one period of her life to another. Exit is a recognizably Taiwanese drama that occasionally wallows in its own identity but also show flashes of insight into fortysomething female anxiety. Though the film lags in parts and spends a generous amount of time on the mundane (when a few shots would suffice) Exit should find a place on Asian-focused festival events.

Middle-aged Kaohsiung garment worker Ling (Chen Shiang-chyi) finds herself in the midst of a crisis when dealing with a rebellious, distant teenaged daughter, a decaying apartment (she is literally locked inside on occasion in one of the film’s less subtle symbols), a hospitalized parent she bears the brunt for caring for are all made more unbearable by the onset of menopause and losing her job. Ling appears to be on the verge of giving in to hopelessness and depression when her mother’s hospital ward-mate, Chang, a surgery patient who is blind and in incredible pain, inadvertently comes to her rescue.

The film is at its most compelling when Ling is tending to the mysterious young man. There’s an odd frisson of intimacy in the little kindnesses she affords him: a drink of water, mopping up sweat, a sponge bath. Her touch calms him down and it reminds Ling that she is a valuable, living woman. Invariably, she begins to look forward to the hospital visits less to see her mother and more to spend time with the stranger, who begins to respond to her. She comes even more out of her misery when she indulges her interest in sparkly ballroom dancing at a friend’s encouragement—at least at home.

Exit is intensely Taiwanese in its aesthetic—lots of medium-long shots and still compositions that see the characters move into, around, and out of the frame. There’s not a lot here, thematically or stylistically, that hasn’t been done before; middle-aged malaise remedied by unconventional behavior is common subject in Asian cinema. Chen’s understated and empathetic performance anchors the film and watching her take the baby steps towards reinventing herself for her own happiness (even if things don’t go her way) is quietly moving. When frustration gets the better of her near the end, her mini-meltdown is as relatable as any other single moment in the previous 90 minutes. A jaunty score by Summer Lei lifts the tone from being uniformly oppressively glum to just fleetingly glum, and reminds us of the humanity at the heart of the story.

Producer: Chen Pao-ying

Director: Chienn Hsiang

Cast: Chen Shiang-chyi, Easton Dong

Screenwriter: Chienn Hsiang

Director of Photography: Hsu Fang-hao, Chienn Hsiang

Production Designer: Penny Tsai Pei-ling

Music: Summer Lei

Editor: Terng Jaw-Chyang

International Sales: MM Square Co., Ltd.

No rating, 93 minutes