Yang Fumin, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Co-written by Leon Dai and Chen Wenbin, and directed by Leon Dai, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (English: “I can’t live without you.”) is based on actual events. A recipient of major domestic and international awards, the film was one of Taiwan’s outstanding motion pictures of 2009. Filmed in stark black-and-white, No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti tells the story of dockworker Li Wuxiong and his daughter Moi-e , who live together in an illegal structure beside Kaohsiung Harbor.
As the film begins, Moi-e has reached school age and her father is required to register a residence. Wuxiong makes several trips from Kaohsiung to Taipei, shuttling back and forth between the Household Registration Office, the Legislative Yuan, and the Ministry of the Interior, Moi-e ever at his side, the pair an ironic contrast to the cold order of governmental buildings, impersonal administrative processes, and indifferent bureaucrats. In the end, however, Wuxiong learns that Moi-e’s mother has married another man and, absurdly, he is denied legal custody of the daughter he has been singlehandedly raising.
What are regulatory provisions? What is procedural justice? At the film’s climax, Wuxiong is hanging from a pedestrian bridge over Taipei’s Zhongxiao East Road, clutching Moi-e, threatening to leap and carry both of them to their deaths, all the while shouting “Society is unfair!” The scene immediately captivated the nation’s attention. And what is “fairness?” In the media’s interpretation, Wuxiong had taken his daughter hostage, and he is sent to prison. But Kaohsiung workers watching the scene on the TV news regard Wuxiong’s resistance as a performance, a protest against the omnipresent oppression of those at society’s margins.
No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti highlights working class misery and helplessness in the face of modern bureaucracy. Wuxiong’s occupation as a diver also serves as a metaphor for his social standing – is the lower class really visible? When Wuxiong is submerged in the polluted harbor water he is nearly imperceptible to Moi-e, who peers down from the deck of a boat. “I look and look and look, but I can’t see you,” she says, the film’s most poetic and defining line. Noteworthy also is the dialogue, a mixture of Hakka, Taiwanese (Holo), and Mandarin. While attempting to register a residence, Wuxiong everywhere encounters refusals, condescension, and outright prejudice; meanwhile, Moi-e’s verbal reticence is tantamount to a silent protest against such treatment.
The residence system is one link in the chain of official control over the population. Ultimately, Moi-e is renamed Xiao Ting, and the film’s closing scene shows the girl reuniting with her father on a harbor dock. Implied, however, is a profound paradox – is the girl waiting on the dock Moi-e or Xiao Ting, as the bureaucracy has officially rechristened her? Thus, the movie leaves viewers with the question: Do they really have each other?
1“Moi-e” means “daughter” in the Hakka dialect.
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