Dir: Mina Shum | Panorama | Sea to Sky | Galas | Canada | 2017 | 94 mins
Saturday, Sept. 30, 12:30 p.m. | Vancouver Playhouse
Wednesday, Oct. 11, 6:15 p.m. | Rio Theatre
When a film is chosen as the Opening Night Gala film for Vancouver International Film Festival, audience expectations are high. When that same film is directed by acclaimed indie filmmaker Mina Shum (Double Happiness) and features a slew of incredible actors like Cheng Pei-Pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy) and Tzi Ma (Arrival), expectations soar.
Yet even the highest expectations can’t prepare audiences for the heartfelt magic of Meditation Park.
Shot in East Vancouver, not far from Shum’s own home, Meditation Park is the story of one woman’s journey to self-discovery after decades of subservience. Pei-Pei is absolutely charming as Maria Wang, a loyal-to-a-fault housewife isolated from the outside world by language barriers and her domineering husband Bing (Ma). Alone at home, she spends her days listening to self-help shows featuring advice like, “Remember, you can be your own best friend!” and taking care of Bing.
Then she discovers a neon orange lace thong in his pocket.
The emotional fallout is handled beautifully by all involved, with many scenes walking a fine line between hilarity and heartbreak. Case in point: Just as Maria digs the thong out of the garbage bin, her frazzled daughter Ava (Oh) shows up and forces her to revisit a painful, decade-old feud held by Bing. Maria dutifully defends her husband, even as she stealthily shifts her position to keep the evidence of his infidelity hidden behind her back like a guilty child. Watching her struggle with her conflicted sense of duty to her husband should be devastating, and it is—but it’s impossible not to laugh when a straight-faced Maria hugs Ava afterward, peering over Ava’s shoulder at the thong she’s holding against her unwitting daughter’s back.
Not ready to confront Bing, Maria ventures beyond the confines of her known universe to find a new sense of purpose. She falls in with a delightfully unruly gang of neighbourhood parking ladies on the wrong side of the law, learns to ride a bicycle and develops a penchant for amateur espionage (accompanied by old-school spy music). As she opens up, so do those around her, until it seems as though the entire world—with the exception of Bing—has just been waiting for her to awaken. By the time the credits roll, Maria is not only her own best friend but everyone else’s too.
With powerful performances that elicited spontaneous applause, cheers and tears throughout its VIFF premiere, Meditation Park is a must-see for anyone who’s ever wondered whether it’s too late to live the life they deserve.
Watch the trailer here.