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'On Happiness Road': A picturesque tale of disillusionment

Liza Yosephine
Liza Yosephine

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, September 7, 2018  /  10:06 am

Taiwanese animated film On Happiness Road tells the story of a young girl named Chi, chronicling a coming-of-age story from her growing up on the titular Happiness Road, while set against Taiwan's turbulent political history and into her adulthood of chasing the American dream.

The film begins with a 30-something Chi, who is now living in the United States and is called back home to Taiwan at the news of the passing of her grandmother, who is of Amis aboriginal descent and who was the source of various life lessons for Chi from childhood through to adulthood.

Being back in her childhood home, Chi begins to reflect on her past and the dreams she once had for herself, which she now sees are much more complicated than once imagined. 

Written and directed by Sung Hsin-yin, the film is inspired by her own tales growing up in a changing Taiwan, strongly weaving the country's political turmoil as part of the protagonist's life. Chi's birthday on April 5, 1975, even coincides with the death of the former country's leader, Chiang Kai-shek. 

Adding a deeper nuance to the sophisticated storytelling of the animation, which goes beyond a child's cartoon tale, is the juxtaposition between the name of the road Chi grew up on and its dimmer reality. 

A self-determined little girl starting grade school who was easily enchanted with life through her vivid imagination, Chi slowly grows up to soon see the tough reality of living, from school demands, societal expectations and later, financial necessities. 

Making friends in primary school with a girl whose father is an absent US serviceman, Chi is exposed to the idea of the American dream from an early age.

But despite eventually arriving and forging a career in the country she had long dreamed of, Chi's life turns out to be far from what she imagined. 

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Through Chi's recollections of growing up, which is actually filled with heartwarming memories with her close-knit family and friends, the film reflects on a touching story on the imperfections of life in the pursuit of happiness. 

Set against Taiwanese contemporary history, which draws the collective memory of the film’s origin country as it went through dramatic social, political and cultural shifts, it's the universal tale of family life that viewers worldwide would find relatable.

The narrative draws an array of emotions, from tear-jerking moments to heartening laughter.

The well-written script is peppered with wise advice from a loving and quirky grandmother, along with lively conversations between Chi and her family and friends that color the beautifully hand-drawn visuals.

The film was actually four years in the making from first being developed into a short film, which won an award and funding for it to be turned into a feature-length animation.

Indonesian artists were also involved in the making of the animated film. 

On Happiness Road was screened in Taiwan in January and has also made the rounds at numerous international film festivals, including in Stuttgart in Germany, Annecy in France, New York in US and Melbourne, Australia.

It won the Grand Prize and Governor of Tokyo Award at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival.

After an introductory screening to Indonesian audiences in Jakarta on Sept. 5, the film will be played at the Bali International Film Festival on Sept. 24-30. (wng)