Life of Never End Co Ltd – alt. Life Is Wonderful (Sheng Ming Wu Xian Gong Si)
Taiwan (2009) Dir. Lu Hong
Seven year-old Taipei girl Pearl (Sandy Lin Yan-Cheng) is shunted off to Kaohsiung to stay with her grandmother (Lu Yi-Ching) while her parents deal with work and business back in Taipei. Unhappy at this development Pearl wants to return home but her pleas fall on deaf ears. At school she meets cheeky chap Larry (Hsue Yong-Yu) who nicknames Pearl “Peel”. Initially they collide but over time become friends with Larry helping Pearl’s attempts to return to Taipei, each one thwarted by Granny.
This directorial debut from former TV drama assistant director Lu Hong is the sort of simple, charming light comedy drama which makes no demands on the viewer while leaving them thoroughly entertained and enchanted. At just 77 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome yet doesn’t feel too short either, telling its tale succinctly in a straight forward manner. The story is your basic fish out of water kid who grows to accept their new lifestyle and is torn when forced to leave it behind with the usual life lessons learned along the way.
Pearl is your typical petulant whining brat who cries at the slightest thing and throws tantrums like they are going out of fashion while Granny, the local seer, tries to take it on the chin while her patience wears thin. While looking for money to pay for a phone call Pearl finds a tin full of coin which Granny says is her payments to the “Life Of Never End” company to help fund a grave for her late husband.
Meanwhile Larry, who starts off as a tormentor of Pearl’s until a prank goes wrong and he ends up in Pearl’s debt, is missing his late father, believing what he is told by his mother and Granny, that he is “working some place far away” even though he knows this is a cover for his death. Pearl’s ways of trying to help Larry see his father based on what Granny tells her customers provided much of the whimsy of the film as the kids follow blindly something they clearly don’t understand but makes perfect sense to them. This naivety is a recurring theme in which both Larry and Pearl find the strength to come to terms with both of their issues in facing the hardships of life’s ugly truths.
The themes of death, mortality and how these are reconciled by the innocent and uninformed minds of kids may sound morbid and bleak but Lu Hong handles it with gentle humour and an unassuming, pragmatic manner. There is a touch of whimsy throughout, kicking off with a crude looking but effective animated opening to set the scene for us before we meet our feisty protagonist. Kaohsiung is a rural ocean side village with simple bucolic and antiquated buildings and should make for a dour and drab backdrop for this film; instead the photography brings out the inherent charm and character within this unassuming locale to adopt the role of another cast member.
Lu Hong’s direction is never complicated or has any ideas of pretension which would have been an easy trap to fall into. Her days on TV dramas have held her in good stead for the more emotional moments while avoiding the pitfalls of flooding these scenes with mawkish sentimentality, a thankful avoidance during the finale which sees Pearl’s returning to Kaohsiung after twenty years.
Sandy Lin Yan-Cheng is an adorable child and seems to be having plenty of fun with the various escapades of Pearl without need to act, and when it comes to the emotional scenes she again appears as nothing but natural. It’s a tall task for someone so young to carry a film but little Sandy does a sterling job, ably aided by the bundle of energy that is Hsue Yong-Yu as Larry, who again surprise when the mood turns bleak for this normally buoyant boy. While both youngsters shine, the glue that keeps everything together is Taiwanese veteran Lu Yi-Ching as the indomitable yet wonderfully human Granny who has her own personal demons and losses to live with.
What Life of Never End Co Ltd lacks in originality it makes up for in heart. It doesn’t break any new ground but sometimes that isn’t always necessary; it is what one does with the ingredients that counts and Lu Hong has cooked up a hugely enjoyable and poignant life affirming comedy drama. A pleasant little gem.