In some other stories, death might be the end; but, not in this one. Death is what set this Taiwanese drama in motion. Grief that follows is the force that stokes up Joseph Hsu Chen-chieh‘s family melodrama, Little Big Women, as it navigates between the sea of distresses and unspoken longings. Grief is also an unlikely power that reunites an ordinary family with a not-so-ordinary story and unravels secrets from the past that have been swept under the rug.
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At the beginning of Little Big Women, a headstrong matriarch, Lin Shoying (Chen Shu-Fang, whose performance garnering her a Golden Horse Award), is preparing her 70th birthday celebration when she hears the news of his estranged husband’s passing in alienation. The man had left her some decades ago, leaving behind all the dire consequences and the burden to raise their daughters all by herself. Now, how can you grieve over the loss of someone who has been lost for you all along?
The answer is not a simple one and this drama tends to scatter them all over its two-hour duration. Shoying becomes the surrogate to all the frustrations and heartbreaks that loom over this drama; but the grief isn’t exclusively hers. She shares it the grief with her children: Ching (Hsieh Ying-Hsuan from Dear Ex), Jiajia (Sung Ke-Fang), and Yu (Vivian Hsu)—all with their own life problems as they gather for the funeral. The mother might have all the grudge and life-long disappointment that won’t just heal; but, the daughters have sweet memories to cherish or at least natural yearnings to urge them to bid a respectful farewell to the father they used to have. The father figure (or basically any male figure) barely appears in the story except in some brief flashbacks; but, the presence emerges like an elephant in the room through the dynamics of this Netflix-bound drama.
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Chen-chieh, who writes the story with Maya Huang, manifests the fatherly presence through Shoyin’s endless feud to actually letting go of her spite. It’s a remarkable character study where the protagonist observes herself through grief and woe she wouldn’t unload. Shoyin might not explicitly see how she grieves; but, her persistence in dishonoring her estranged husband shows it often in the film’s most absurdly ridiculous moments, such as the battle of prayers scene or the cockroach stomping one. However, the most ironic yet heartbreaking revelation is the moment where she acknowledges how her daughters inherit the mix of her characters and, obviously, the father’s characters that always remind her of the man she wants to hate. In the film’s most awkward moment, it’s reflected through Shoyin’s unending resentment towards the husband’s partner, Ms. Tsai (Ning Ding). Her grief is almost poetic; but it only rewards whoever is patient enough with the film’s slow-moving narrative and slice-of-life presentation.
Shu-Fang‘s brilliant performance functions as a sympathetic guide to navigate around the grief-stricken surrounding of Little Big Women. The narrative’s maudlin nature inarguably leans towards melodrama. However, the sympathetic journey of those big women grieving in their own way occasionally steps into black comedy territory in capturing the irony in a beautiful yet unexpected way.