Shadows, Three Sisters, and The Silent Forest are screening as part of the 2021 New York Asian Film Festival that runs Aug. 6 to Aug. 22.
Lee Seung-won’s Three Sisters is a meditative drama about the distant lives of three sisters leading up to their reunion at their father’s birthday party. Mi-yeon (Moon So-ri) is the mother of two in a religious household, and she discovers her husband is engaging in an affair with a member of her church choir. Hee-sook (Kim Sun-young) is a flower shop owner with a disobedient daughter who she is unable to connect with. And Mi-ok (Jang Yoon-ju) is a writer whose emotional distress alienates her from her loved ones, despite her reaching out for help.
The three central performances are all strong in their own right, in a film which could use a more gripping plot. The characters they portray have a fair amount of depth, but the stories surrounding them are somewhat contrived. Until we reach the finale, the conflicts plaguing the characters are rather conventional—an affair, an illness, rebellious children, etc. So while the drama is portrayed very well, the events themselves are not novel enough to justify their drawn out delivery.
Three Sisters: B-
The Silent Forest
The Silent Forest is a harrowing look at a systemic cycle of abuse among students at a school for the hard of hearing in Taiwan—a story made all the more disturbing by it being based on true events. The film features graphic depictions of abuse which are difficult to watch, as such this will not sit well with everyone.
The script does its best trying to capture this story with nuance and to go beyond mere shock and discomfort, but it struggles at crucial moments. The ending, in particular, does not grapple with the tone of the situation very effectively. On the flip side, there are a number of scenes which illustrate the pain of these characters with adequate restraint, aided by strong performances from Chan Yanfei and Troy Liu.
The Silent Forest: B-
Shadows opens with the grisly murder of a family and the attempted suicide of its perpetrator. It is a brutal opening to what is a fairly conventional police procedural, a film that feels like a watered-down Seven crossed with the television program Medium. The film’s protagonist, Ching (Stephy Tang), is a psychiatrist with the supernatural ability to enter a patient’s subconscious and see their traumas. When she is put on the case of the social worker who murdered his family, she partners with a police officer (Philip Keung) to discover the truth behind a larger conspiracy.
Glenn Chan’s film is a strange balance of the supernatural and gritty realism, and I don’t think that it works. Ching’s gift, the main hook of the film, does not read as particularly crucial to the otherwise boilerplate crime narrative that drives the action. It is an oddly perfunctory aspect, which leaves the rest of the plot feeling somewhat uninspired. While it is a good looking film, its narrative is wobbly, moving across different characters’ stories that are connected through a flimsy central figure. The end result is something which does not feel entirely cohesive, an unremarkable film begging for a better use for its intriguing premise.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)