AS those familiar with Chinese tradition will know, Chenpi should not be left outside in the rain.
Yet in Mina Shum’s creepingly emotional film Meditation Park, Chenpi – sun-dried tangerine peel used in Chinese medicine and cooking – is given such neglectful treatment. In doing so, it becomes the symbol of a marriage in peril.
The Chenpi in question is originally peeled by Maria (the delightful Pei-Pei Cheng) on the 65th birthday of her husband Bing (Tzi Ma). Immigrants from Hong Kong, the couple have built a life together in Vancouver on the foundations of an old-fashioned relationship dynamic. Bing suits up and heads to the office every day while Maria does the housework.
Left to cook meals and watch daytime TV, Maria’s biggest concerns are caring for her husband and – if her daughter (Sandra Oh) is visiting – practicing her English. She seems lonely yet content. After all, she understands the sacrifices Bing has also made for this comfortable life in Canada. The black-and-white pictures that adorn their working-class home are a constant reminder of their shared struggle – as well as the culture and societal standards the two were born into.
Maria’s outlook, however, is shook to the core when she discovers a bright pair of women’s underwear in Bing’s trouser pocket. Restless and inspired by a daytime 90s detective show, Maria makes it her mission to get out of the house and find a job – and more importantly get to the bottom of her husband’s suspicious activity.
Much of Meditation Park takes a whimsical tone as Maria, sweet but rendered inept by her housebound lifestyle, goes through a late-life awakening. She learns how to ride a bike and gets a ‘job’ illegally selling car parking spaces with a group of women around her age. Despite growing concerns about her husband, these activities breathe fresh energy and confidence into Maria. She has vibrancy and independence.
As Maria starts to get a grip of life outside the home, the film sheds much of its whimsy for serious family drama. It is beautifully and understatedly done by Shum who peels back the problems of Maria and Bing’s marriage with a delicate and acute hand.
Like a good Chenpi, this film leaves a rewarding taste. Meditation Park is a humble and unexpected delight.
Meditation Park will be shown as part of the Canada Now film festival starting May 3. Click for more info.
This was review 14/30 in April’s Monthly Film Challenge – Female Filmmakers.