Film enthusiasts across Canada gathered at established and pop-up theatres on Wednesday, April 18 for National Canadian Film Day.
In St. John’s, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival (SJIWFF) spearheaded a local screening, showing Canadian director Mina Shum’s “Meditation Park” at the Rocket Room on Wednesday evening.
Filmed in Shum’s current hometown of Vancouver, and her Chinatown neighbourhood, “Meditation Park” features a stellar cast of big names, like Sandra Oh, renowned for her lead role in “Grey’s Anatomy,” Tzi Ma of “NYPD Blue,” “Rush Hour,” and Cheng Pei-Pei, who boasts over 50 years on the silver screen.
In the 2017 film, Cheng, Ma, and Oh are Maria, Bing, and Ava, two parents approaching their senior years, Ava their adult daughter now raising a family of their own.
We meet Maria, the film’s protagonist, as she is hanging out the laundry, performing one of her many daily duties as a stay-at-home housewife.
Next on her to-do list is a trip to the market, to prepare for the evening’s special occasion — Bing’s 65th birthday. With the three generations gathered around the table, Dad blows out his birthday candles, noting that it is not only his birthday they are celebrating, but also their departure from Hong Kong to Canada, on this day 39 years ago.
Bing recounts meeting Maria, saying, “I wasn’t worthy of you then, and I’m still not worthy of you now.”
This simple line provided a bit of obvious foreshadowing to anyone who read the movie’s plot line prior to the screening — we know that soon, Maria will find an orange thong in her dear husband’s pants pocket. It is this discovery that throws her entire existence for a loop, as she begins to wonder about her life, how she has lived it thus far, and how she will tackle the future, her family and marriage now in jeopardy.
Stepping out from her husband’s shadow, the audience watches as Maria gains independence, heading out on her first job hunt in 40 years, making friends with the neighbourhood women illegally selling parking spaces, and making money doing the same, despite her husband’s views on the practice.
Paying a cabbie with her newfound riches, Maria trails her husband, eventually catching him with his much younger mistress. The confirmation of this act doesn’t send Maria on a downward spiral of depression — in fact, it is a strong foothold on her path to freedom, which will eventually lead her to reuniting with her estranged son, ostracized from the family 10 years ago by Bing.
“Meditation Park” is not your typical story of a scorned woman seeking revenge – a typical and terribly predictive rom-com plotline. Instead, this film follows an aging woman who, armed with knowledge she wishes she didn’t know, is presented with an opportunity to change her life.
If only all romantic movies could be so empowering.
After the film, the crowd was treated to a live Q&A with director Shum, speaking to the audience via Skype. Discussing the film, and the industry, SJIWFF director Jenn Brown and Shum talked about National Canadian Film Day’s goal of putting the spotlight on women in film in 2018.
Heading into its 29th festival this year, SJIWFF has been showcasing powerful women in film for almost three decades – Nice to see the rest of Canada is catching up, though.