LETTERS FROM THE SOUTH
Directed by Aditya Assarat, Royston Tan, Midi Zhao, Sun Koh, Tan Chui Mui, Tsai Ming-liang
Official Selection, 2013 Busan International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Official Selection, 2014 Edinburgh International Film Festival
Six directors of Chinese descent turn their cameras on the Chinese diaspora, charting their own points of entry and exit and interpreting diaspora broadly, especially as it pertains to the concept of self. Just as important is that these are six filmmakers based in Southeast Asia, a region where being “Chinese” has social, political, and economic implications often unacknowledged in other parts of the world.
Thai director Aditya Assarat looks at a cross-border family encounter: a Thai girl’s cousin visits from China and becomes a sensation among her friends. Singapore’s Royston Tan and Burma’s Midi Z reflect on the lingering significance of rituals and family: food preparation in the former and burial rites in the latter. Malaysia’s Tan Chui Mui and Singapore’s Sun Koh explore the nexus of China, colonialism, and home, the former through an impressionistic excavation of Malaccan history, the latter through a hilarious satire on the impact of the Chinese market on a local radio program. And then there’s Malaysian-Taiwanese Tsai Ming-liang’s “Walking on Water,” in which Tsai’s red-robed monk lingers through the Kuching apartment complex that Tsai grew up in.
Much has been written about the Chinese diaspora, “Southern” Nanyang culture, and Sinophone literature in Southeast Asia. LETTERS FROM THE SOUTH is refreshing because it refuses comfortable reference points like nostalgia and loyalty. Instead, the omnibus film finds, through a variety of modes and attitudes, questions that emerge out of local youth culture, entertainment, and lived spaces. Identities slip in and out of focus as Sinitic languages dance around each other as they only can in Southeast Asia, and perhaps most enchantingly, when nothing is said at all. –Brian Hu
Cast: Lee Kang-sheng, Lulu Huang, Wu Kexi