ASIAN FILM - Review
11:00 - 4th September 2015, by NEO Staff

Exit

With Exit, cinematographer Chienn Hsiang steps behind the camera to direct his first narrative feature, telling the story of 45-year-old Ling (Chen Shiang-chyi), a woman whose life is filled only with emptiness. Ling’s husband is away working in Singapore; her teenage daughter, Mei Mei (Jenny Wen), has reached an age where she thinks almost anything is preferable to spending time with her ‘intrusive’ mother; she’s stuck in a dead end job which may not last much longer; and she’s begun to suffer the first symptoms of the menopause, causing her to fear that she’s losing her very womanhood on top of everything else.

From the very outset, Chienn Hsiang repeatedly frames Ling as a tiny figure within a sprawling, oppressive apartment block, complete with bars on entry gates, underlining the fact that this isolated woman is to all extents and purposes a prisoner of her own life. Chen Shiang-chyi’s frankly phenomenal performance adds further to this, allowing her character’s resigned frustrations and hesitant hopes to positively ooze from the screen at every turn. Whether unsure, agitated or indeed waiting for the proverbial hammer to fall, Ling’s inner feelings scream from her eyes, as often as not without a single word of dialogue needed or spoken.

In a life such as Ling’s, tiny moments and seemingly inconsequential events are everything, and as such, some viewers may initially find the driving elements of Exit less than incendiary. However, each holds a statement that belies its diminutive size. Her repeated re-sticking of peeling wallpaper with Sellotape, and virtually every appliance she touches breaking down – requiring her to bodge it back together – point to her attempts to patch up a life falling apart. Meanwhile, her constant battles with a defective door lock speak volumes of her desperate, yearning need to escape (physically or mentally). Together, these serve to place Ling’s mind front and centre on screen.

The first 30 minutes of Exit is bereft of music, until Ling inadvertently sees work colleagues tango dancing. This happens at almost the same time as she begins tentative, tactile interactions with a temporarily blinded man in the same hospital ward as her ill mother-in-law. As she slowly rediscovers feelings long since forgotten, the tango’s musical motif perfectly heralds her changing emotions and outlook, uncertain though she clearly is.

The humour present in Exit is brief and passing in nature, but important nonetheless. Rather than being used to lighten the load of serious subject matter, as is so often the case, here it simply (and deliberately) adds just a little needed warmth to Ling’s character, softening her persona and helping to make it virtually impossible not to develop a fondness for her.

Exit is ultimately a nuanced, tender and deceptively engaging story of a character you’ll not just feel for but actually like. As Ling battles fervently with that endlessly defective lock in the film’s final stages, you’ll positively ache for her to succeed in her efforts to physically exit, and, more importantly, mentally escape.

Director Chienn Hsiang should indeed be credited for successfully creating a film this nuanced and deceptively engaging as his first narrative feature. However, actress Chen Shiang-chyi’s tour de force performance in this story of a broken woman desperate to feel allows her to own every frame in which she appears, to the extent that she is Exit’s greatest strength.
SCORE: 4/5
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