Chen Boqing, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
A careful observation and investigation of modern family relations and the lives of Chinese expatriates, Pushing Hands (1991) was director Ang Lee’s first feature-length film. Veteran actor Lang Xiong won the Taipei Golden Horse Best Actor Award for his portrayal of an elderly Chinese gentleman who emigrates from Beijing to the US, and the film was named “Best Picture” at the 1992 Asia Pacific Film Festival.
People living under the same roof are not necessarily a family. Old Zhu, Lang Xiong’s character, moves to America to live with his son, Xiaosheng. When Xiaosheng goes to work, his wife and Zhu – two relative strangers – are alone in the house. Conflicts soon arise due to lifestyle differences, the language barrier, and differing views on childrearing. In one scene, Xiaosheng comes home from work and his wife speaks to him in English while his father addresses him in Mandarin. The situation is even worse at the dinner table – because of the language barrier, Xiaosheng’s wife and Old Zhu suspect each other of complaining to Xiaosheng, thus straining family relations. Chinese generally regard “togetherness” as proof of familial accord, but here physical closeness is a symbol of discord, calling the meaning of “family” into question.
In Chinese tradition the father is head of the family, a symbol of power and authority. But living in a strange place, Old Zhu gets lost while taking a walk, and, like a child, is forced to rely on others’ assistance. Zhu is a tai-chi master, skilled in the martial arts; in America, however, his talents are seemingly useless. He takes a job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant and encounters difficulties there too. When he get to know an elderly Taiwanese woman, an opportunity to forge an emotional bond, it turns out that their respective families have discreetly arranged the meeting. And when Zhu’s son sees him off – Zhu is moving out – the Confucian values the old man represents are shaken to the core: A family is no longer a family, and ethnic identity and age-old tradition are put to the test. The film not only highlights East-West cultural conflicts, but also focuses on the struggle between tradition and modernity; thus, “diaspora” is more than mere separation from one’s homeland – it is, in fact, a state of rootlessness. The familiar is far away, fixed notions vanish like smoke on the wind, the new is strange and unwelcoming, and one is fated to wander forever.
Thus, the film’s title works on two levels: Old Zhu is a tai-chi master, adept at “pushing hands,” a martial-arts exercise wherein a player attempts to unbalance an opponent while maintaining his or her own equilibrium. But “pushing hands” is not simply a martial art – it is Old Zhu’s life philosophy, which he uses to escape painful human relations and unpleasant realities. “Pushing hands” – a practice that aims to effortlessly neutralize an opponent’s power, transforming it into one’s own – is a portrayal of Old Zhu’s plight in a foreign land. At the film’s end, however, when Zhu’s family frets that he won’t return, his daughter-in-law says, “As long as his grandson’s here, he’ll come back.” This seems to imply that although family structures many evolve, the love and sense of connection embodied within are unchanging – that, perhaps, is the film’s central message: “pushing hands” is not so much about achieving victory as it is about finding balance.
|Related Literary Themes：||Diaspora Literature|