Mr. Chen Lung Sihung
Mrs. Chen Gua Ah-leh
Sze-ming Winston Chao
Hsiao-chi Rene Liu
Chan Siu-chun Jordan Chan
Lei-lei Phoebe Chang
Chin Yang Kuei-mei
Lung-lung Alex To
Following her quietly impressive green-card movie, “Siao Yu,” Taiwanese director Sylvia Chang hits pay dirt again with “Tonight Nobody Goes Home,” an entertaining, bighearted relationship comedy in the Ang Lee tradition that should find a warm reception among Sinophiles around the globe. Specialized distribution is likely to be trickier, however, because the movie doesn’t aim for art with a capital A, despite its fine production values and smooth pacing.
Chen (Lung Sihung) is a 60-year-old part-time dentist who still eyes the babes at his local pool and dreams of a friskier life away from his nagging wife (Gua Ah-leh). His fantasies take shape in Chin (Yang Kuei-mei), an entrepreneurial teacher at his granddaughter’s school, to whom he’s soon giving more than a root canal.
When Chen moves in with Chin, the family reacts in various ways. Daughter Hsiao-chi (Rene Liu), who’d always admired her parents’ marriage, is devastated; yuppie son Sze-ming (Winston Chao) is more concerned with keeping afloat his shaky business ventures with his wife (Phoebe Chang). But when Mrs. Chen pals up with a Hong Kong singer-gigolo (Alex To) at Sze-ming’s nightclub, and then starts cooking him meals, the carefully balanced house of cards starts to rearrange itself.
There’s nothing in the feel-good plot that hasn’t been done before (especially the theme of a conservative wife being liberated by her husband’s affair), but the neatly interlocking script, terrific ensemble playing (by a cast that’s virtually a rerun from Lee’s “Eat Drink Man Woman”) and the pure generosity of spirit shown to all the characters (with no villains or victims) makes Chang’s film a constant delight for those prepared to go with it. Even at two hours’ running time, there’s no dawdling or spare flesh along the way.
Also notable are the small, observant touches that Chang inserts, from tiny pieces of physical comedy to moments without dialogue that capture the characters’ feelings. Pic’s attitudes toward sex are open and refreshing, with no playing up of “Oriental” values.
Lung, who has virtually patented the part of the wise, crafty father from Lee’s movies, is entirely believable as a sexagenarian enjoying a second spring, and brings a relaxed, insouciant tone to the role that sets the key signature for the film. He’s matched by veteran Gua, probably the only Taiwanese actress of her generation who could bring off the complex, light comedic role of themother. Performances are strong and well defined down the line, with Liu (“Siao Yu”), as the daughter, and Yang (“Vive L’Amour”), as the mistress, relishing the chance to play more outgoing roles.
After a writing-directing career that’s only gradually taken shape over some half-dozen pictures, actress Chang seems now to have hit her stride behind the camera. Tech credits are excellent, with Chang Ta-lung’s lensing, full of strong , positive colors, adding to the overall warm feel.