The Long Goodbye: Film Review

A tender, personal but sentimental documentary on the elderly in mental decline.

An engaging look at six elderly patients sadly and slowly losing their grip on reality and history.

TAIPEI – A documentary concerned with elderly people in various stages of mental and physical decline, The Long Goodbye makes one feel the agony of slowly losing one’s grip on reality.

Director Yang Li-Chou unravels the checkered lives of each of his subjects, offering a poignant reminder that everyone has a past and a niche in history. During its successful theatrical release in Taiwan, word-of-mouth drew patrons who didn’t normally watch documentaries. The film has a good shot at targeting humanitarian fests or family channels.        

Characteristic of TV-commissioned documentaries in Taiwan, the narrative tone is conversational and unabashedly emotive, and therefore might be considered too soft for hardcore documentary buffs accustomed to bleak, minimalist Chinese mainland social realism.

The documentary observes the daily lives of six patients who reside at the St Joseph’s Home for Alzheimer’s in Taipei. Some are sweet and childlike, others cantankerous or disturbed. By end of film, one gets to know them so well they feel like family.

The home lets one see Taiwan in miniature, with its Babel-like dialects and accents as well as patients whose experiences are shaped by Taiwan’s history. For example, Teacher Wang, 95, is a multilingual Eurasian who was a Kuomintang major in WWII., a period which she fondly remembers as the “best years of my life.” 

Another chapter of history is recalled when Ching Chen, 80, receives a visit from officers’ wives, who settled in the same “spouse village” as her after relocation from China in 1948. It is moving to see the survival of friendship (no doubt cemented at a time of suffering and bewilderment) despite Ching Chen confused consciousness about their identities.

The most tragic figure is 85-year-old Mr. Yin, whose paranoia about “commie spies” borders on the absurd until he gradually divulges how his whole family was killed by the Chinese Communist Party. The scenes are told in an abstract, dreamlike way through a beautiful animation sequence.  

What gives the documentary its universal resonance are the tender depictions of the subjects’ relationships with their family. At the same time that Yang shows how distraught children feel to see their parents’ deteriorating minds and bodies, he also captures heartwarming scenes of children bravely taking on reversed roles as care-givers, sometimes overcoming their negative judgment to rebuild greater intimacy. 

Yang has an eye for memorable and visually strong details, such as a daughter holding her father’s hand after confessing how it used to disgust her to touch him. He also makes skillful use of photos to engage the audience. 

At times, Yang treads the fine line between eliciting sympathy for his subjects and making a spectacle of them, evidenced by long takes of patients sobbing uncontrollably when they try in vain to remember things. 

Venue: Hong Kong Filmart Industry Screening
Sales: Joint Entertainment International Inc.
Production: Backstage Studio Co. Ltd.
Produced by The Catholic Foundation of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia

Director: Yang Li-Chou
Producer: Tian Hsin-Hua
Executive producers: Hsu Li-Kong, Michelle Chu
Presented by: Hung Shang-Chun, Tang Sai-Hung
Directors of photography: Chen Hsiang-Sung, Yuki Chu
Music: Kay Huang, Baby-c
Editor: Lee Nien-Hsiu
No rating,105 minutes