“Lilting”, a thought-provoking slice of cross-cultural life

Junn (Cheng Pei-pei) and Richard (Ben Wishaw)

Lilting: (adj) pleasant rise and fall of the voice

Like its title, this movie exhibits that spoken language can’t be as good as emotions to connect two different people, who shares grief for the same person they love deeply.

Richard, a British guy, trying to communicate with Junn, a widowed Cambodian-Chinese woman who is the mother of his dead boyfriend, Kai. Richard intends to help Junn, who lives in London but doesn’t have any other family taking care of her after Kai’s death. It turns out to be difficult, because Junn doesn’t speak English and she hates Richard for getting in between Kai and her. She doesn’t know her son was gay, and Richard feels responsible to tell her because Kai was about to come out before he died.

To help oil the communication wheel, Richard hires translator, a Chinese descent girl named Vann. She helps translate for Alan, an old man who likes Junn and lives in the same nursing home. However, as Vann helps Richard talk to Junn, somehow the translator got carried away emotionally; she tries making Junn understand that Richard is the love of Kai’s life, and the person who can get her son’s attention as much as she does. And they need to help each other to move on.

I think the most fascinating element of this movie is that, despite the communication problem, eventually Richard and Junn manage to understand each other by showing their true feelings to Kai. Ben Wishaw has delivered impeccable performance as the achingly suppressed Richard. Every time I remember about Richard’s face crumpled with grief, it saddens me. That’s how good Wishaw’s acting is. Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei also succeeded to portray the stoic and concervative Junn.

The end of the movie is beautifully artistic, depicting Junn’s true feeling and why she refuse to adapt to the new culture she’s been facing for years. And like any good mother, she’ll always love her son unconditionally. Here’s Junn’s great monologue toward the end of Lilting:

Through plenty of crying, I’ve learnt to be content that I won’t always be happy, secure in my loneliness, hopeful that I will be able to cope. Every year on Christmas Day I get very lonely. An incredible feeling of solitude. On this day, everything has stood still, even the trees have stopped rustling, but I’m still moving, I want to move, but I have nothing to move to, and nowhere to go. The scars beneath my skin suddenly surface and I get scared. Scared of being alone.

The sub-conflict between Junn and Alan – who get the benefit from the translator in the beginning but then stop after discover each other bad habits – adds humor to the gloomy story. In a nutshell, the first move of Cambodian-born British director Hong Khaou is a reflection of sensitive subjects, such as same-sex relationship, transcends through cultural barrels: it can be amusing, intense, and poignant. Hong did a tremendous job by making this debut looks personal and real, with the help of wonderful cinematography done by Urszula Pontikus and melancholic music by Stuart Earl.

Lilting (2014)

Directed by Hong Khaou
Produced by Dominic Buchanan
Written by Hong Khaou
Starring Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei­pei, Andrew Leung, Morven Christie, Naomi Christie, Peter Bowles

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