09 July 2012

Film review: Pushing Hands (1992) by Ang Lee, ****


Mr. Chu is a recently widowed tai-chi master who moves from Beijing to New York to live with his son. Chu's American daughter-in-law, Martha, can't stand having him around the house. He finds her Western ideas on raising children and keeping a home to be curious at best. These conflicts test family bonds and Mr. Chu's highly developed sense of balance. This was the first feature as a director for Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) and has many of the hallmarks of his later, better-known works: finely observed characters, gentle yet pointed humor, and the ability to see and understand both sides of a cultural divide. The charismatic Sihung Lung (who also starred in Lee's The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman) plays Chu with strength and understatement, but Deb Snyder is miscast in a thankless role. The title refers to a tai-chi exercise that's at the center of the film's best scene, a standoff in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant. --Geof Miller for Amazon


Another great movie by Ang Lee and superb interpretation ny Sihung Lung. The eternal problem of how do deal with our elders. Difficult to keep them at home with our spouses, yet difficult to abandon them in a hospice for old people. It can be a lose-lose situation. Or it can be a win-win situation if all concerned make an effort. In the end, in this movie, the grandfather successfully blends his need to keep in touch with son and grandson, but without interfereing in their lives too much.

As always with Ang lee and Sihung Lung, food and cooking plays out all along the film. It is a healthy reminder of the central role food and eating together plays in family life in any culture. Tai chi is not a central part of this movie, and therefore I'd say the title is a bit out of context. Also, some of the fighting scenes where old Sihung Lung beats dozens of younger men while practically standing still are a bit exaggerated!

I found this movie thoroughly enjoyable and very perceptive. The movie is set in the US with a Chinese protagonist, and as such does provide insights into the problematic meeting of Western and Eastern minds, though the issues it addresses are really universal. Strongly recommended.

You can read a list of movies about China I have reviewd here on this blog.

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