A Little Patience Brings Big Rewards
How do you move past the death of a family member? How do you replace that gaping hole in your life? And what happens if said family is a dysfunctional pressure cooker of emotion? Step forward Little Big Women. This Taiwanese character study tackles these ideas head-on, applying a deft touch and some excellent acting across this 2 hour drama.
The death in question here belongs to the estranged husband of a domineering matriarch, Lin Shoying. After leaving her life 20 years ago, his death – right on Lin’s 70th birthday no less – brings a wave of indifference, annoyance, frustration and genuine sadness from all involved.
This bubbling mixer of different emotions is churned into a syrupy, bitter drama that’s stretched out across the run-time. Ideas of acceptance, forgiveness and love are shared and fought through the eyes of five different females, which makes up the bulk of Little Big Women’s plot.
Specifically, the film centers on Lin, who tries to live through her children while clinging to ill feelings of bitterness, anger and resentment toward her husband. In fact, she hasn’t even thought about signing the divorce papers despite not seeing or hearing from him for over a decade.
These feelings trickle down into the three sisters who find themselves conflicted and caught in the middle of this bad blood feud between Mother and Father. Blood may be thicker than water but in the case of Little Big Women’s plot, that blood is discolored and left to fester for far too long.
The sisters aren’t just here to prop the movie up though, with eldest daughter Ching embodying a lot of the same traits that her Father did. To contrast, doctor Yu, the youngest daughter, adopts traits seen in Shoying, including putting pressure on her own daughter Clementine to succeed. Stuck in the middle of all this is Jiajia, who plays up the middle-child rebel, lashing out against Shoying’s pushiness.
There’s a certain poetic irony to this collection of characters and despite the sombre subject material, actually includes some surprisingly funny moments. Whether it be a dancer causing the girls to incredulously grab their phones to record or Shoying stamping on a cockroach during the incense ceremony, these tiny moments give the film a light touch to prevent it falling head over heels into melodramatic territory.
The female-centric cast do a wonderful job evoking these complicated emotions, with Shu-Fang Chen the real stand-out here, going through a whole rainbow of emotions across the movie. Seeing her change and evolve across this time is genuinely one of the highlights here and for that alone, makes the film worth a watch.
This rainbow extends to the visual design of the movie too, which deliberately adds many tones of blue and red. Whether it be hot and cold (a literal representation of the sisters and how they feel about their Mother and Father) or tranquil and angry (a more physical manifestation of said feelings) these colours work harmoniously throughout the movie. When this balance is disrupted slightly by hiccups of yellow (symbolizing joy and happiness) the balance on and off screen helps to give this film an extra layer of depth.
Unfortunately a lot of the best moments in the movie require a tremendous amount of patience to experience. Despite only clocking in at 2 hours, there’s an awful lot of long takes here that really slow the pace down. There are some well-intentioned flashbacks and floaty tracking back and forth to dispel this, but the film struggles to break free from these shackles for long stretches of the run-time. It’s not until the final act where things begin to move a bit faster, and by then some people may have checked out.
That would be a real shame because Little Big Women is a beautiful movie. It’s a film about grief and acceptance, wrapped up in a heady cocktail of drama, light humour and heavy emotion. If you can go into Little Big Women with a bit of patience, this Taiwanese drama brings a big emotional pay-off.