In 2010, the Hong Kong Film Festival featured the first showing of this Taiwanese film directed by Liu Essay and Wang Yu-Lin. Distributed by Cheng Cheng Films, “Seven Days in Heaven” is a comedic adaptation of Essay Liu’s autobiographical story, which won the Lin Rong-San Literary Award, exploring the rituals surrounding death in a poignant and thoughtful manner.
The movie “Seven Days in Heaven” will be shown at Asian Pop Up Cinema.
Lin Guo Yuan (Po Tai) has died. His daughter Mei (Garance Wang Li-wen) goes back to her hometown with relatives from both within and outside the country to take part in the traditional seven-day Daoist mourning ceremony. During her visit to the rural community in central Taiwan, which was once her father’s home, she is reminded of the uncomplicated beliefs and practices of the villagers. Once the funeral is over, she gathers her emotions and memories and leaves for the busy city. However, while waiting at the Hong Kong airport, she is unexpectedly hit with a strong yearning for her father.
As the story of “Seven Days in Heaven” unfolds, it delves into the effects of Lin Guo Yuan’s passing on his children, nephew, and sister-in-law, while also exploring the evolution of the Taoist mourning ritual. The contrast between modernized city dwellers and traditional rural customs creates a sense of cultural disorientation for those returning from urban areas. Through their gatherings, the younger generation is able to reflect on their relationships with family and piece together a more complete understanding that was not previously possible from their individual perspectives.
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The main focus of the narrative is the portrayal of grief through humor, poking fun at the extravagance and customs surrounding funerals and family. The use of wordplay, exaggeration, and comedic scenarios highlights the absurdities and contradictions within traditions and morals. The comedic element is crucial to the story as it allows for the exploration of various situations and emotions without becoming overly dramatic. However, “Seven Days in Heaven” also has poignant moments that showcase the significance and influence of family, particularly a father figure, on one’s life. Throughout the story, the characters, particularly Mei, relive heartfelt memories that aid in their acceptance of their emotions.
In the end, each family member leaves with a stronger connection to their roots. Mei is now able to cope with her loss in her own unique way. The performances are well done, but no actor truly stands out as the story shifts between different characters. The main focus and message of the film is effectively portrayed, showcasing the decline of traditional grieving and customs in modern-day Taiwan. One particular aspect that stands out is the priest (Wu Pong-Fong) instructing Mei and her brother Da-zhi (Chen Chia-Hsiang) to take turns crying each day as part of a Daoist ritual to show filial piety. As they are forced to cry more and more, their tears become insincere. This is because they are performing their grief and do not have the luxury of processing their loss at their own pace. However, when they are alone and away from the rituals, they are finally able to cry genuinely. Unsurprisingly, Mei remarks, “Now I understand how draining it is to cry for our father.”
Mei emphasizes that no matter our origins, we are destined to meet again in the same places. This profound message is effectively conveyed through the clever and straightforward screenplay. It is crucial to confront ourselves and those around us, a realization that often requires reconnecting with our roots. The cinematography beautifully captures the ever-changing nature of life. As religion and tradition play a significant role in the story, the film utilizes color and dynamic visuals to create a captivating atmosphere through art and rituals.
After the aforementioned seven days, the main characters return to their regular routines with a sense of sadness, as they come to terms with the changes brought about by their father’s passing. Despite resuming their usual activities, they embark on new paths as they try to cope with the absence of a significant figure in their lives. In a poignant moment, Mei breaks down in tears at the airport when a flight attendant offers her a pack of cigarettes, which happen to be the same brand her father used to smoke. Unlike the expected dramatic and orchestrated mourning at a Daoist funeral, each person grieves in their own unique way and at their own pace, sometimes not all at once but gradually as life moves forward.
“Seven Days in Heaven” is an inspiring and thought-provoking journey about family roles and grieving. It tackles the difficulties of expressing oneself due to family pressures and responsibilities, no matter how one tries to distance oneself from the burdens of traditions, parents and relatives.