Qiu Maojing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
In 2006 young Taiwanese author Essay Liu (born 1980) won the Lin Rongsan Literature Prize with her short autobiographical piece “Seven Days After Father’s Death.” Four years later, Liu took on the challenge of adapting her text for the screen for the film, also sharing directing duties with Wang Yulin. In 2010 Seven Days In Heaven won prizes for Best Screenwriter at the Taipei Film Festival and the Golden Horse Film Awards and took NT$40 million at the box office in Taiwan, an amazing feat for an independent film.
“A good read and a good laugh” is how Essay Liu describes her perspective on literature in the postscript to her prose collection. On this reading, the strength of “Seven Days After Father” lies in the way it deals with a father’s untimely death in a lighthearted way. The prose is like a dandelion seed that flutters and dances in the wind, but when it finally lands it has a gravity which weighs on the reader’s heart. The humor lies in the light and humorous ways it portrays the traditional rituals of Taiwanese funeral culture.
The “seven days” of the title refers to traditional Taiwanese folk religious custom of offering funeral sacrifices every seven days after a death. “Seven Days After Father” focuses on the first of these – the day on which, in Taiwanese tradition, the spirit of the deceased returns to visit family members. Liu describes in detail the period after her father’s funeral, up to the seventh day, and her writing constantly uses jokes and other forms of humor. In the film, captions and off-screen voices perform the same role. For example, in a scene poking fun at her family and friends making paper flowers, a voice on the loud speaker says directly, “Dutiful daughter A-Qin, so when are you going to ‘cry for the father’? (This phrase is a Taiwanese vulgarity meaning “to weep because one’s father has died,” but which later became a swear word mean “to wish someone’s father dead.”) Or when the children of the deceased use photo editing software to make a picture of the deceased for the funeral, some people find the photo they have chosen too informal and not in keeping with the solemnity of the occasion, so they have to crop out the flip-flops and tidy it up. Liu’s ear for dialogue and skillful composition enable both the text and the film to bring out the joys and sorrows of life and death and show the essence of traditional Taiwanese religion in a way that will resonate with readers and viewers.
The experience of reading the text stays with the reader for a long time, but the film has a comic briskness and a lightness of touch that is almost musical. The film differs from the text in that it establishes a definite geographical location, which makes it feel situated and lifelike. For example, the female lead leaves Tienchung, her hometown, to study in the city of Taichung, and when she returns she is wearing the uniform of her Taichung high school. She has a close relationship with her father, who teaches her to ride a motorcycle. There is also a scene where a feng shui master is at the Tienchung railway station waiting for a train with the female lead’s cousin. We see people leaving home to study in urban schools and to look for work, while back home people remember the past with fond regret. The film conjures up a moving portrait that not easy to describe. It is like the old line describing the trauma and inevitability of change, “The trees yearn for peace, but the wind will never cease. Children grow and marry, and parents cannot tarry.” A moving story of grief and loss.
|Related Literary Themes：||Religious Literature|