Director Yang Mingming’s first feature film, Girls Always Happy, will screen as a centrepiece of this year’s OzAsia Film Festival’s Women Directors In Asia selection.
It is a film that centres on the lives of two Chinese women – Wu, an unfulfilled freelance television scriptwriter, peddling anti-Japanese teleplays, and her mother, a widow who feels bitter at the hand she has been dealt in her life.
The director has cast herself as Wu, and both she and Nai An, who plays her mother, summon up convincingly neurotic performances.
Girls Always Happy, at its heart, is a tale of hesitancy, of procrastination and examines the effects of the slow, gradual disintegration of one’s hopes and ambitions – but it is also a film rich in warmth and subtle humour.
Both mother and daughter are depicted as being frustrated by the sense of stasis that has come to consume their lives. They share a crowded and confined living space, which allows them no physical or emotional separation from each other at all. They subsequently carp constantly about the other’s behaviour; blame each other for their failure to break free of their negative situation, and regularly fire hurtful comments and insults at each other. They both bicker about the other’s failure to bring in sufficient income, and they eat – a lot.
Yet, underneath this seemingly impregnable wall of hostility and unfettered frustration, there are a number of close and tender moments, where we see both women showing empathy as they share their similar fears and apprehensions. These insightful scenes provide a key to understanding their respective thought processes as they each decide whether or not to pursue potential relationships with the considerate male suitors who have shown a keen interest in sharing a future with each of them. Simply put, despite the ongoing friction between them, neither of them can bear the thought of letting the other go.
Yang Mingming wrote and edited the film, in addition to her directorial and on screen involvement, and she declares herself a force to be reckoned with in Asian cinema. She has created a scenario that effectively explores tensions between the need to conform to traditional values and beliefs whilst her characters negotiate the relentless and disorienting march of progress into a world where the old ways no longer seem to have the same degree of currency they once held. Her film also accurately captures the anxiety that many people, and women especially, feel as they try to assert themselves into a confusing, competitive and largely indifferent world of change.
The ironically titled Girls Always Happy is a film that provides a great deal of cultural insight, whilst, at the same time, reminding us all that future shock is a universal condition.
Girls Always Happy screens as part of the Adelaide Festival Centre’s 2018 OzAsia Festival which runs from 25 October to November 11.