Film: Shuttle Life
Director: Tan Seng Kiat
At: Scotiabank Theatre
Dinner: Iced Tea and Chicken Caesar @Crepe Delicious
Basic Summary (from TIFF): An impoverished family attempts to cope with tragedy and mental illness in a very divided society, in Malaysian director Tan Seng Kiat’s feature debut.
After Movie Thoughts (possible spoilers obv.)
Films like Shuttle Life are the reason why you need to go into them without any expectations because the journey that you will be going on is unpredictable.
Shuttle Life is about a family's struggle living with mental illness in lower class Malaysia. This movie isn't a feel good movie, and it has no reason to. The system is working against them and it feels like an endless spiral of hopelessness.
The film begins with a brother (Qiang) and sister (Hui Shan) collecting water from a water tank, but ultimately find out that the water tank is empty. They end up camping out at a washroom until the cleaning lady comes in, is distracted and goes out, leaving tanks of cleaning water in the washroom. The pair take advantage of the situation and with the empty bottles that they have been carrying around, fill it up with the water and bring it back home to their mentally ill mother. At home, Qiang notices Mother has not been taking her pills and they quarrel. Annoyed, he tells Hui Shan to convince the mom to take it and as if on cue, says it's candy. In this moment we notice how severe the illness really is, and the juxtaposition of the child having to coax the mother to take her pills says a lot about the setting of the home and the family situation.
As the film goes on, Hui Shan dies due to a hit and run accident with Qiang as a witness and he spends the rest of the film making progressively worse and worse choices, all this just to see Hui Shan's body. See, this film isn't your typical feel-good movie at all. It highlights the consequences that come with being lower class and does it in a way that you can't help but understand the choices that Qiang makes. To give some context, Qiang's not allowed to see his sister's body in the hospital because he doesn't have her birth certificate. He doesn't have her birth certificate because of his mother's mental illness who is not stable enough to process the situation and find it. In a futile attempt, he tries to find someone to forge one illegally but it's expensive and he ends up car jacking and ironically also commits a hit and run with it. At the end of the day, you can't help but feel for Qiang who has essentially been handing the worst of worst cards in life and is barely able to hold it together.
While watching Shuttle Life, saying that I felt mixed emotions doesn't even cover it. I felt sad, which caused me to feel angry, and then sad, and them back to angry. This movie really highlights what hopelessness really feels like, and does a phenomenal job at it.
At the end of the movie, Qiang end up driving the jacked car to pick up his mom. He has food, and while the mom is in the passenger seat happily eating food, sounds of the sister singing a song can be heard as bg music, and then the movie fades to black on a bittersweet note.
I put this review off for a real long time, partly because you can never be truly ready to face this film. The way Director Tan it's able to grab your heart and then for the rest of the film, essentially crush it into pieces is something you can't expect to brace for. It happens, and you are left only with acceptance and no choice but to move on. Hopelessness is a reoccurring feeling, and Shuttle Life is a bleak look at what life can be like for the lower class. It's harrowing, and feels like punch after punch to the gut.
Can't say this movie is for everyone, but I can definitely guarantee that when you go in, you won't be the same person coming out.