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Chinese-Canadian view of the dutiful wife

Wife ventures outside her comfort zone to learn husband's secret

MONGREL MEDIA</p><p>Cheng Pei-Pei (left) and Tzi Ma are husband and wife in the film Meditation Park.</p>

MONGREL MEDIA

Cheng Pei-Pei (left) and Tzi Ma are husband and wife in the film Meditation Park.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/3/2018 (840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In Canadian indie filmmaker Mina Shum’s warm and observant new drama, infidelity leads to a late-in-life emotional awakening, not for the straying husband but for the dutiful wife.

Despite a few bursts of hokey comedy and some forced uplift, Meditation Park (in English and Cantonese, with subtitles) is mostly a complex and compassionate look at marriage, families, aging and the immigrant experience.

MONGREL MEDIA</p><p>Cheng Pei-Pei plays Maria, who becomes suspicious of her husband in the film Meditation Park.</p>

MONGREL MEDIA

Cheng Pei-Pei plays Maria, who becomes suspicious of her husband in the film Meditation Park.

Long-married couple Bing (Arrival’s Tzi Ma) and Maria (Cheng Pei-Pei of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) left Hong Kong 40 years ago to come to Vancouver.

They are celebrating his 65th birthday — they affectionately call each other "Old Man" and "Old Woman" — along with the anniversary of their arrival in Canada.

Joined by their daughter Ava (Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh, who actually got her big boost with Shum’s 1994 breakout film Double Happiness) and her husband and children, they enjoy Maria’s good cooking and Bing’s festive drink of cold red wine and Coke.

Unfortunately, after this happy night, Maria finds a lacy orange thong in the pocket of her husband’s pants. She is forced to re-evaluate Bing’s recent "working late" excuses — and ultimately her whole life.

Completely devoted to the care of her husband and children, Maria has lived mostly within the confines of their small bungalow. (The film’s interior shots are often framed through doorways and hallways to seem even more claustrophobic.)

She has never held a job outside the home, she doesn’t drive and her money comes from her husband — except of course for the small emergency stash siphoned from housekeeping funds and hidden in the kitchen cupboard.

She speaks English only reluctantly.

Determined to figure out what Bing is up to, Maria realizes she needs cash, she needs connections and she needs to get out into her community.

Her detective work ends up transforming not just her marriage, but also her sense of self.

MONGREL MEDIA</p><p>Cheng Pei-Pei (from left), who plays Maria, stars in Meditation Park alongside Sandra Oh, Tzi Ma and Zak Santiago.</p>

MONGREL MEDIA

Cheng Pei-Pei (from left), who plays Maria, stars in Meditation Park alongside Sandra Oh, Tzi Ma and Zak Santiago.

Maria starts hanging out with some of the neighbourhood women, previously rejected by her husband because of what he sees as their down-market habit of selling backyard parking for $20 on hockey game days. She even strikes up a tentative friendship with neighbour Gabriel (Don McKellar), a rival in this lucrative (and illegal) parking racket.

Maria also starts thinking about Charlie, her adult son who has been exiled from the family after a dispute with his father. She connects in a new way with her daughter Ava, who represents the freedom of modern Canadian life, but doesn’t feel so free at the moment, overwhelmed as she is by a demanding job, two small children and almost no sleep.

The subplots don’t always work. Gabriel’s personal tragedy feels manipulative, the broad comedy of the parking ladies sometimes gets embarrassing and Ava’s issues are underexplored.

What does work is Shum’s deep humanism and the warmth and generosity shown to all of her characters.

Bing, for example, is seen not as some patriarchal caricature, but as a man who has become too used to getting his own way. A moving scene between Bing and Ava outlines his own insecurities and fears.

Ultimately, though, the story rests on an affecting and absolutely lovely performance by Cheng.

Known in her youth as an invincible wuxia warrior in martial arts movies like Come Drink With Me, she is just undaunted as a quiet 60-something housewife, her wondrously expressive face carrying this film and its optimistic vision of late-life renewal.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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