Opening with a shot of the surface of a body of water, the reflection from beneath that refraction, green and lush the foliage that slips through that boundary, we continue to a man awake, abed, inverted. The camera will turn and so will he, staring down a corridor of floating glitter, ringing bells, locked doors, brightly lit from a cabinet that from certain angles might be a jukebox.
The appropriate reaction to watching your own family reading your corpse’s blood pressure (zero) is thematically if not accurately translated. “He was fond of the river sound” but they aren’t listening. They are making offerings, however, the veil between worlds permeable to microwaved steamed buns if not messages from the deceased.
Law enforcement is differently equipped for dealing with ghosts. As a senior judge Dredd has a silver boot-knife for when supernatural entities don’t respond to the Lawgiver. Elsewhere whole forces are dedicated to the dead, though RIPD seemed to make busting ghosts less enjoyable than any of the four films eponymously ectoplasmic of that ilk.
Though rooted in a tragedy, Can You Hear Me? is broadly comic. His widow, hapless son and annoyed daughters, the fear of manslaughter, the grandchild on the way. The borrowed wheelchair is just one of a series of chaotic interludes, physical comedy achieved in the immediate contrast of the corpse and the incorporeal. Each with their own contribution too, fluid in the movement between those two masks of theatre, of opera, of history. “Let it not be a dream”, but it is, a thing mystical, magical, ephemeral, hypnotic. “It’s not a dream”, but it is, a film mystical, magical, ephemeral, hypnotic.
Screening as part of the 2022 Edinburgh Taiwan Film Festival, it draws not just from the spiritual but various other (hi)stories of the island. The peaceful riverside for a final walk has as its background a refinery complex. A marriage of 40 years s bracketed by another relationship, one with “commies” and bloodshed, grasping ghosts, $2000 clocks that sound exactly as childhood rivers.
There’s always a challenge in short film to cut and fit to canvas. Can You Hear Me? manages not just to tell a satisfying story but in continuing action over its credits to create a coda that grants a different depth. Shih Chieh King’s performance(s) are made harder in that most of those he interacts with aren’t interacting back. King’s a veteran actor, pushing towards a hundred roles over a forty-odd year career. An air of “dad-ness” is probably magnified for audiences more familiar with his work, but it’s still more palpable than the departed. The toll on Zhang Xin Chang’s police is heavy, but he’s able to shoulder the weight of realisation when those around him don’t. Kui-Mei Yang as (ex-)wife Ming Zhu Wang might be familiar as one of the daughters in Eat Drink Man Woman, her career is almost as storied as King’s and the pair (together, separately) have the air of long suffering togetherness.
Nien Hsui Li writes and directs, this is their second short. They’re ably served not just by a great cast and strong performances but an undercurrent of humour whose morbidity never feels overwhelming, more a product of affection. Less perhaps a fond farewell than a farewell of which one could be fond, Can You Hear Me? is a film that draws touching (and comic) sense from loss.
Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2022