My Heavenly City

My Heavenly City
My Heavenly City
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There is one thing that is obvious in big cities: they consume and swallow up their inhabitants. It can be overwhelming for people who are not very familiar with these energy-draining cityscapes; sprawling metropolises of towering concrete, massive in scale and intensity. These are often huge places which either reek of fast paced, almost merciless life with thousands rushing about the streets like a multitude of ants or heavy smell of cold capitalism. This is also filled by intense feelings of insignificance for many citizens. In Sen-I Yu’s debut feature film My Heavenly City, this theme of isolation in a global city collides headlong into Taiwanese cinema.

Sen-I Yu takes her first full-length feature against the imposing background of the Manhattan skyline having previously made her reputation on the short film circuit (DERFNER 15). In creating My Heavenly City, she seems to have borrowed from her experience making shorts so that each story follows the lives of three characters who are somehow connected by living under similar circumstances within New York City. The portrayal of these three Taiwanese residents could even have some autobiographical undertone because Sen-I Yu herself is Taiwanese immigrant living in New York.

The movie starts with Mavis Fang (Vivian Sung), an international student who has no friends and has left home for the first time coping after ending an acrimonious relationship with her boyfriend thus this storylet emotionally embraces her struggles with solitude as well as depression. Drowning in the foreignness surrounding her new dwelling place and related cultural differences, Mavis finds hope when she makes friend with a boy whose situation appears even worse than hers.

This second strand takes over as the main narrative thread in the movie through its chronicle of two characters’ Jack (Keung To) and Lulu (Jessica Lee) love affair. As usual, this clichéd love story includes everything you would find in any other respective butterfly feeling laced romance plus their passion for hip-hop dancing in New York.

The third and last part can be argued as being the most interesting telling a story of an ideal Taiwanese family, living in Brooklyn now. Nevertheless, due to their son’s autism which causes extreme outbursts characterized by violent behavior, husband and wife Claire (Mandy Wei) and Jason (Chun-Yao Yao) must cope with their seven-year-old boy’s violent nature. As a result, he brutally beats up his mother before being taken into custody.

Throughout My Heavenly City, loneliness, hardship and difficulty of adjustment to an alien way of life are recurring themes that vary in their intensity, and Sen-I Yu does a great job at making her protagonists’ stories heart-rendingly real. It is natural therefore that My Heavenly City carries with it an aura of genuine ease given the director’s own immigrant background and her own personal adaptation to the new country. Although sometimes it veers off into being too predictable, it still offers a fascinating insight into the experiences of East Asian immigrants worldwide as well as daily struggles from family level to cultural.

The movie has a number of remarkable performances by Chun-Yao Yao and Mandy Wei who give their roles in incredibly delicate and sweet manner as well as Keung To and Jessica Lee who displays true organic chemistry. What makes these stories shine so much is how she presents them with subtlety; capturing what exactly make moving halfway around the world such difficult task for some people.

On certain occasions, Sen-I Yu’s debut flick brings out her nimble-handedness in film making though. Nevertheless there is no uniformity or synergy between each story leading to lack of harmony throughout the whole film itself but individually all short films have little credibility. Each of these short stories leave us not just wanting more but needing more sustenance in terms of storytelling. This kind of film always requires characters development to be on point since it assumes its abstract form.

Unfortunately, My Heavenly City tends towards tepidity somewhat without any richness that would give it completeness. To this effect Stories one and three are incontrovertibly more captivating yet Jack and Lulu’s trite love affair lies right at the center with much exposure despite giving back apathy as feedbacks.

Even though there are some stray remnants of good ideas running through My Heavenly City here and there, nevertheless its poignancy may not have been quite as potent or moving for Sen-I Yu when she took up her short story and adapted it into a full-length movie. In general, this delightful Taiwanese collage provides an interesting view of immigrant life in New York but too often it gives in to sentimentality and could have used its stories being more closely braided together with a little more flesh put on them.

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