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Zinnia Flower (2015) [New York Asian Film Festival 2016]

ZinniaFlowerDirector Tom Lin made the Taiwanese “Zinnia Flower” following the death of his wife in 2012 as part of his grieving process.  The film follows Ming who lost her fiancé and Wei who lost his wife and unborn child both in a major car accident.  Their loves ones get Buddhist funerals in which the departed’s loves ones come to the temple every 7 days for 49 days and are supposed to let go at the end of the grieving period of 100 days.  Ming and Wei’s paths cross a few times during this process but each goes through their grief their own way.

The film is co-written by its director Tom Lin and writer Wei-Jan Liu.  They craft a highly personal film about grieving, letting go, moving on, and remembering.  Lin puts all of his feelings and hope in this film which is filled with sadness and love.  The two mourners the story follows are complex and layered characters, each showing two very different ways of grieving with the victims’ families each taking different approaches to how to include them in the funeral process.  The film explores many angles to grief, none of them being better or worse than the other.  It also never judges or becomes schmaltzy; it’s a good study in its subject.  The director’s closeness to the subject, the fact that he has clearly battled with this, shows throughout the film.  He works with a hard subject delicately and gets his audience to share in the worse experience (most likely worse) of his life.

With a subject so close to his heart, the casting of the characters he created is so important.  The actors needed to be perfect for their parts.  In the part of Ming, the young woman who lost her fiancé in the accident, Karena Lam offers a subdued performance that hits all the right notes.  One of her scenes in particular should have every eye watching tearing up.  Her character goes through the grieving process without much support but how she decides to go through it on her own shows strength and courage.  She not only shows that her character is sad and mad, but you can also see the moment when she takes her life in her own hands, the moment her sadness changes , all of this through the actress’ soft, yet strong performance.  In the part of Wei, actor Shih Chintlang, a guitarist from the band Mayday, portrays a man in the worse possible period of his life, having lost both his wife and unborn child.

His performance embodies grief in a more classical way, with anger and the other steps up until acceptance.  His feelings are more expressed than Ming’s, thus the actor’s performance bounces back and forth between stronger feelings.  He makes the viewers feel with him in a more visceral way. For those who do not know much about Buddhism and its funeral ceremonies, the way grieving is handled is very interesting.  Over 49 days, the mourner goes to the temple to remember the dead and grieve.  After 49 days, there is also an important point at day 100 where the mourner is supposed to stop crying and learn to go on.

The way the religion is handled in the film doesn’t hit the viewer in the head; it makes sense and actually shows an angle to things that non-Buddhists may not know may not know very well. The temple scenes are shot in a very serene manner and are beautiful.  The rest of the film has a serious tone as well, but the temple scenes catch the eye in particular.  The scenes in Okinawa also do, but they are more comforting than serene.  This film is shot with such attention to details that it makes its runtime go faster and helps get the feelings through without becoming too heavy which is not an easy balance to achieve especially with such a subject.

Zinnia Flower is a film about death and the grieving process that works.  It’s not too heavy but shows the feelings and makes the viewer empathize with the characters.  It’s a beautiful and sad film, beautifully sad.  The title flower, the Zinnia, and what it represents is explained close to the end.  The story is touching and should make quite a few viewers cry.