Bookended by a pair of pining yet positive 1960s-era pop songs from Chinese diva Chang Loo, Mina Shum’s latest film, Meditation Park, bristles with passion and perseverance in a contemporary-set story of devotion, deliverance, and revision amongst an aging married couple at a crossroads.
Meditation Park is sensational in its subtlety and simplicity as Shum, returning to narrative filmmaking after 2015’s excellent race relations/social protest documentary Ninth Floor, plainly yet provocatively depicts the up and down undertakings of Maria (played with grace and gradation by legendary Chinese actress Cheng Pei Pei [Come Drink with Me, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon]), a 60-year-old woman who discovers via a racy pink thong that her husband Bing (Tzi Ma) has gone outside their marriage.
Much of the domestic drama has a light touch that, considering much of the focus is on a kindly aging couple and the relationships they have (or don’t have) with their adult children, does summon to mind the cinema of Yasujirō Ozu or Edward Yang, and like those filmmakers, Shum is openly committed and capable of shading her characters and scenarios with empathy and fellow feeling as the generational gap broadens and imbues.
There are many memorable and moving scenes that vary in their delicacy, for myself I felt a particularly Ozu inflection when Maria advises and identifies with her future daughter-in-law Dylan (Liane Balaban), made all the more recherché knowing that it’s been a decade since Maria or Bing have seen their prodigal son.
The domestic drama is punctuated with ample amounts of humor (Maria’s Chinese-Canadian clique of DIY parking attendant seniors are a hoot), intrigue (inspired by an episode of Dragnet, Maria tails Bing to uncover his mistress), and a sense of overpowering evocativeness (Maria’s generational harmony/disharmony reigns ubiquitously) that results in an aching lamentation of children who neglect their parents and vice versa, a husband who takes his wife for granted, the fleetingness of life itself, and the acceptance of the inevitable.
Meditation Park also displays an acting ensemble playing at its finest (Lillian Lim, Don McKellar, and Sandra Oh in particularly shine), giving this small but significant picture a quiet, dignified resignation that resonates with anyone who cherishes their family life. Recommended.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.