FNC 2021: Wood and Water (木與水, 2021) & Days (日子, 2020)

Wood and Water (2021)

Director (and writer): Jonas Bak

Cast: Anke Bak, Theresa Bak, Patrick Lo, Lena Ackermann, Alexandra Batten, Susanne Johnssen, Patrick Shum, Ricky Yeung

As she enters retirement, a mother leaves behind her solitary life in rural Germany and memories of a once perfect family life and travels to protest-ridden Hong Kong, a place that has kept her son away from her for many years. – IMDB

Wood and Water is an interesting film to say the very least. It starts off in Germany and centers around a mother after her retirement who spends time with her daughter and as she waits for her son to come back as well, the plans change and she then decides to venture to Hong Kong to visit him which ends up being fruitless as she doesn’t actually see him but ends up venturing through this protest-ridden city.

The real adventure starts as she ventures into Hong Kong from her night at the hostel and her stay in her son’s empty apartment and learning about both the city and meeting different people in the city that shares their views. In some ways, it helps her embrace her own retirement and solitary living but also learning more about her son as she sees his living condition as well as what troubles him through the different items lying around his apartment. While they aren’t together, there is still a better understanding through the few days there. At the same time, it also opens up the view of Hong Kong during its protest-ridden days and explains a bit about the politics and the situation going on there. As she watches it from up close or from above or sees the before and aftermath of the whole protest, it also creates a whole different feeling for the situation and contrast of the city from one moment to the next.

Wood and Water’s title most likely derives from the conversation with the fortune teller and the translation which talks about her birth cycle and the element that matches to her and what she is and what she lacks as a result. In some ways, that conversation probably has the most ground as some of it does feel like it connects with her own life while some of it doesn’t. Its also a conversation that leads to another acquaintance that shares her feelings about retirement and children living far away. There’s a lot of little subtle moments here and for the most part, the film is very quiet. The little passing conversations all have their own value and adds to the mother’s experience. When it all ends, this slice of life film almost feels like nothing really happens except for some wandering, eating, Tai Chi and other mundanities but yet, it also feels like there was a lot to takeaway as she enters into her retirement in solitary in the woods by herself.

Thing is, Wood and Water spends a lot of time in complete quietness, darkness, and flips through different scenes at time or pans the camera in observation. Its slow-paced but also rather short in length and works in its subtlety. Its not a film for everyone but if you can connect with the character or the situation, it probably will draw a lot of value. For myself, the Hong Kong setting is one that I love plus setting it during the tumultuous times of the protests which also prevented myself from going to Hong Kong adds a level of familiarity.

Days (2020)

Director (and writer): Tsai Ming-Liang

Cast: Kang-Sheng Lee, Anong Houngheuangsy

Kang lives alone in a big house, Non in a small apartment in town. They meet, and then part, their days flowing on as before. – IMDB

While I am unfamiliar with director Tsai Ming-Liang’s work, Days is definitely an odd one to start with. Its a true test of patience. The film itself is mostly no dialogue and flips through different sequences between two characters. The first is Kang, an older man who lives in a big house (I assume in Taiwan) and the second is Non, living in Bangkok who works at some market and prepares traditional dishes. The contrast between the two characters living condition all comes together as it reveals their connection as they spend one night together.

Days is an odd experience. The main thing is that its dialogue free experience is one that feels like it slowly observes the different moments alternating between the two characters. Both living through their own days in their different environments and yet these different scenes watching whatever their doing gives a rather good idea of who these two people are. It is absolutely abstract and yet, somehow it slowly does manage to draw the attention. One scene where Non spends time watching his vegetables and fish and then going to make his food becomes this rather engaging moment. Much like the time they spend in the hotel room is a bit long but the whole sequence is meant to bring the sensual connection between the two which does achieve its goal for the most part.

Its really hard to talk about a film like Days. Its not a film for everyone. While its comparing apples to oranges, it brought myself back to A Ghost Story which had a lot more context and flow in its story but still had moments where it was just watching people move through life. Perhaps its a nice lesson to slow down our lives and really notice these little moments that make up each person. As much as its not the normal sort of film, many of these sequences are visually appealing. The cinematography and how the scenes are frames really has this meditative feeling to it almost.

To be fair, Days isn’t in my normal wheelhouse so I’m not exactly sure how to review this sort of film. Its very arthouse and yet, perhaps there is something deeper to discover for those who can appreciate these different sequences, its cinematography and connect with these characters.