“My Dear Tenant” Movie Review

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” – Audre Lorde

Strong undercurrents of this statement reverberate throughout this powerfully visualized film, that dispel human notions and ignorance. There are very few family dramas that stir your base emotions, leave you exasperated and yet you feel oddly connected to the emotions defiantly portrayed by the characters. Golden Horse-winning Dear Tenant is one such film, because Jian-Yi might be the most underrated character in the entire BL universe. And yet, you can’t help but fall in love with his passive attitude, sacrificing nature, or his limitless love for adoptive son, Yo-Yu. He is majorly guilt ridden because of his past endeavors and as such, most of his actions are his efforts to seek redemption. I was truly left surprised by his selfless behavior and unending patience.

Director and Screenwriter Cheng Yu Chieh has made ardent efforts to depict the honest relationships between the three main characters in his film- Jian-Yi (Mo Tzu-Yi), Hsiu-Yu (Chen Shu-Fang) and Yo-yu (Bai Run-Yin) who are connected by a common thread, Li-Wei (Yao Chun-Yao). This movie draws attention to the intolerant society which has allocated parameters for the very definition of a family unit. The film’s poignant storyline and excellent portrayal of the main characters will leave you wounded and spellbound. I couldn’t help comparing this movie with the Japanese BL film “His” and although both movies are focused on parental love, their themes and objectives are entirely different. Despite the initial discord and impulsive leaps in the storyline, the film delivers on the promise of addressing important issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community.

Dear Tenant focuses on the trials and tribulations faced by Lin Jian-yi, a tenant who is looking after his old landlady Hsiu-yu and her nine-year-old grandson Wang Yo-yu. When Hsiu-yu dies under mystery circumstances, things start to go downhill for Lin Jian-yi. Yo-Yu’s uncle, Wang Li-gang is shocked to find that his nephew has been legally adopted by Lin Jian-yi , while the ownership of his mother’s apartment has been transferred to Yo-yu. He suspects foul play and as such requests for investigation into his mother’s sudden death. All evidences point towards Lin Jian-yi, as he is forced to make a choice between his own freedom and the little boy he has grown to love dearly.

The Irrefutable Wall of Expressions

Mo Tzu-Yi’s tear jerking performance will leave you bewildered and entirely shell shocked. Jian-Yi is a complex role and the character’s subtle oddities make him vulnerable yet mysterious. For the past five years, Jian-Yi has been looking after the son, Yo-Yu, and the elderly mother, Mrs Chou, of his deceased boyfriend Li-wei. He is majorly guilt ridden and the circumstances are rather questionable, until the later half of the movie where the focus shifts to their romance. Mo Tzu Yi’s embodies the very definition of a widower mourning the death of his better half. Lin Jian-yi cares for his dead lover’s mother as if she was his own and dotes on their son. His indescribable love for Li-Wei extends to the entire family. Dear Tenant focuses on the strong message that some relationships are beyond blood bonds and adoptive families do exist.

The film also strongly focuses on the prejudices faced by the LGBTQ community throughout the world and Mo Tzu-yi delivers the subtle nuances of his character with a dignity that truly describes their struggles and pain. There are so many scenes in this ardously scripted movie, that reveal Jian Yi’s frustrations as he questioned or rebuked for his sexuality. In a particularly eye opening scene, the prosecutor questions his continous efforts to care for the family of his deceased lover. An entirely exasperated Jian Yi replies with a statement that shocks the Prosecutor as well as renders the audiences speechless.

“If I were a woman, and my husband died and I continued taking care of his family, would you ask me the same question?”

The simple yet honest question describes the present status of the LGBTQ community who are still treated indifferently and are currently surviving under abysmal conditions. I enjoyed watching this flawed individual, whose moments of weakness actually betray his inner strength.

Bittersweet Fatherly Love

The carefully crafted relationship between the ten-year-old Wang Yo Yu and his adoptive father, Lin Jian-yi is the focal point of this film. His biological father Li-wei died when he was five years old and he has been bought up by his father’s lover. He obviously has no idea about their real relationship because his Grandmother has kept their relationship a secret from the kid. And despite that, he cares and adores his second Father. Bought up in an idealistic society, Yo Yu might be ignorant of his biological father’s relationship with Jian-yi. But that doesn’t stop him from trusting Jian-yi even when his own Uncle tries hard to shake that faith. Yes, he is a kid and under pressure, Yo Yu does break. He even goes to the extent of questioning Jian Yi’s intentions and that scene truly did sting. It is ironic that most of the time, Yo Yu mimics his adoptive Father’s passive nature rather than his real one. This is a very indication of the kind of influence that Jian Yi has on Yo Yu or their irreplaceable bond.

Despite the outburst of emotions, Yo Yu still trusts Jian-yi implicitly and his innocence will tug at your heartstrings. Child actor Bai Run-yin must be applauded for his efforts to portray the vulnerability of this character who is on the verge of losing all of his parental units. He doesn’t trust people easily and as such his Uncle Wang Li-gang is the last person he wants to associate with. Yo Yu is like most kids who attest to true affection and as such his entire world revolves around his doting Grandmother and his adoptive Father. The movie would be lackluster if Jian-yi didn’t love Yo Yu like his own son. The little kid on the other hand bestows Jian-yi with the kind of trust that is unimaginable and this truly makes their bond entirely heartwarming. Two individuals who were at first tied by their love for Li-wei and later became an indispensable part of each other’s lives.

Acceptance and Love

At the center of this movie, is one woman’s struggle to realise her conflicting emotions, while trying to understand her dead son’s choices. The entire film is tethered to the mysterious circumstances of landlady Hsiu-yu’s death and her tenant Jian-yi’s is the major suspect. While the first half of the movie focuses on their strained relationship and builds a rather obscure picture where Jian-yi does seem suspicious, the second half showcases their journey of rediscovery. As Hsiu-yu’s diabetes worsens her condition, she begins to questions her own convictions. Despite her vehement rebukes and frequent taunts, Jian-yi never gives up on caring for her. The sudden realization that her son fell in love with this man, because of his caring nature and kind heart makes this journey complete. I really enjoyed watching their interactions, specifically the scene where the entire family is in the court for Yo-Yu’s adoption procedure. While Jian-yi is nervous, Hsiu-yu sits there watching him with a mesmerized expression, basking in the knowledge that her grandson will be taken care of. The fact that she chooses to relinquish her rights to Jian-yi instead of her own second son, describes the sudden change in their dynamics. The irrefutable trust and belief are heartwarming. Although Hsiu-yu’s sudden death throws him into a pothole of troubles, Jian-yi never gives up on protecting them. 81-year-old veteran actress Chen Shu-fang breathes life into this supporting character, enough to make you to empathize with her condition and feel elated by her acceptance.

The Subtle, Non Existent Romance

Dear Tenant cannot be broadly categorized as a Gay Romance film. Li Wei and Jian-yi are portrayed as a loving couple and although their romantic moments are far between, they do make a sweet couple. So while the movie paints a pretty picture of their togetherness, Li Wei’s argument with Jian-yi on their trekking expedition and sudden death will leave you confused. Jian-yi’s remorse and guilt are imminent and they become the underlying theme of this film. His ardent efforts to save Li Wei while being trapped on the snowbound mountains increases the tranquility of their last moments together. This film is purely driven by emotions, one man’s infallible love for his dead lover, respect for the said lover’s ailing mother and affection for their son. Li Wei tethers these three different individuals together and his death brings them closer.

Final Impressions

Dear Tenant is an experience, albeit a difficult one. Although it suffers from knee-jerk reactions that seem inconsistent and confusing, the movie is entirely honest in its depictions of human nature. Jian-yi’s seemingly passive nature and his demeanor might leave you frustrated in certain instances, but at the heart of this controversy is a loving man trying to shield his child from unavoidable circumstances of death and resentment. Yo Yu on the other hand projects the natural exuberance of a young kid who is curious about the happenings in his life but is also guarded against external forces. I’m actually dissatisfied with this movie’s ending because it leaves us with more questions than answers. Jian-yi and Yo Yu’s separation doesn’t make sense, if Jian-yi has been acquitted of his charges. Dear Tenant received three Golden Horse awards — Best Actor for Mo Tzu-yi, Best Supporting Actress for Chen Shu-fang and Best Original Film Score and rightly so. The melancholic song in the ending credits “In Dreams” leaves you with a feeling of foreboding, as Yo Yu adds his own words to the song originally composed by Jian-yi during their good times together!

“Will you be happy? I fly to where you are. Will I be happy? Let’s go home together in our dreams.”

You realise how much these two lost souls depend on each other and fervently hope for their reunion. Regardless of this situation, Dear Tenant is a must-watch, because of the power packed performances delivered by the main actors. The film majorly converges thought-provoking issues with societal stigmas and drives the hammer on their convictions. It is melodramatic but life isn’t without drama. This film scores high on injecting tear inducing moments that will leave you emotionally devastated. After all, love always triumphs!

Rating- 4 out of 5

Interesting Tidbit

While I was watching this scene which ended in their terse confrontation, I wondered how it started. GagaOOLala officials were gracious enough to share some edited footage from this movie!

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