VIFF Review: ‘Meditation Park’ is just lovely

Director Mina Shum is back, people. Meditation Park is the latest film from the Vancouver director and explores the immigrant experience with a woman finding empowerment. You know what? It’s a damn delight, too.

VIFF 2017

Cheng Pei Pei (who you probably best know from _Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon_) plays Maria, the dutiful wife of Bing (Tzi Ma of _Arrival_ and _Veep_), whom she emigrated to Vancouver when their children were young. The entire reason for doing so was to give their children a better life. Bing eventually becomes a successful accountant while she stays at home. Now a grandmother, her English isn’t very good, and she has no real friends thanks to this role she has taken on, but she is ok with it because both she and Big have devoted themselves to this plan. Then she finds a pair of someone else’s underwear in Bings pants, and she decides to start living her life more for herself.

What follows is both heartwarming and hilarious. Maria gains a group of real friends for the first time, engages in some Dragnet inspired detective work to figure out who Bing is sleeping with, and starts learning from her daughter (Sandra Oh) about being a more independent woman. Oh, who previously worked with Shum on the similarly themed _Double Happiness_ is pretty great in this as a thoroughly more modern daughter to her traditional mother and father, feeling both the love and frustration that comes with that.

Cheng Pei Pei is a screen legend in her own right already, the star of stage and screen in China and known as The Queen of Swords for her many martial arts movies. She sells the inner conflict that Maria is going through pretty perfectly and bringing a beautiful warmth to the role. There is an especially nice few scenes between her and Canadian screen legend Don McKellar as her gruff neighbour, with whom she becomes good friends after dressing him down for being the neighbourhood jerk.

Tzi Ma is similarly great as Bing, the self-centred patriarch of the family that I’m sure most of us can recognize. The final scenes of the movie where he has to confront what is going to be his new reality moving forward are where Ma really shines. The fear in his eyes as he realizes he isn’t going to be in charge anymore is real, and his body language as he reconsiders his entire life is simple, subtle, and affecting.

The movie isn’t perfect; there are some moments where it can’t quite decide if it’s a drama or a straight-up comedy, and one of the zany friend characters kind of ventures into caricature territory, but these are pretty minor issues in an otherwise delightful film with a great pair of leading performances.

Meditation Park is getting a wide release next spring, and you’d do well to keep it on your radar until then.


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