A rare Taiwanese move away from navel-gazing, "Bear Hug" is a warm-hearted, surprisingly unsentimental view of families fractured by geography and opportunity, mostly from the POV of a 9-year-old latchkey kid. Pic should be a smash on the kid-fest circuit and is worth a look for arthouses ready to go further afield.

A rare Taiwanese move away from navel-gazing, “Bear Hug” is a warm-hearted, surprisingly unsentimental view of families fractured by geography and opportunity, mostly from the POV of a 9-year-old latchkey kid. Pic should be a smash on the kid-fest circuit and is worth a look for arthouses ready to go further afield.

Dajun (impish Chen Guanbo) doesn’t mind living with his gadabout dad (Wang Jianmin), even if the guy is busy with a silly singer. But he really misses his flight-attendant mom (Chen Xiangqi), whom he idealizes in scenes that are part fantasy, part memory. He’s mostly minded, in both senses, by plump, Brillo-haired cousin Yifen (Hong Haoxuan), whose own broken household is too crowded. She’s saving pennies to buy a giant polar bear, giving the pic its title and a sense of what’s missing from their otherwise comfortable lives. Female helmer Wang Shaudi, assaying her first effort in six years, attempts to cover a lot of bases and does most very well. Gooey synthesizer score hits the wrong note, making events seem more treacly. Computer-animated bookends are a nice touch, with bears acting out some of the tale’s elemental dynamics.

Bear Hug

Taiwan

Production

A Rice Film production. (International sales: Rice Film Intl., Taipei.) Produced by Huang Liming. Directed by Wang Shaudi. Screenplay Huang Liming, Shaudi;

Crew

Camera (color), Ching Ting-Chang; editor, Du Mingqi; music, Gerald Shi. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Dragons & Tigers), Oct. 2, 2004. Original title: Yangbao Da Baixiong. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Chen Xiangqi, Chen Guanbo, Hong Haoxuan, Wang Jianmin, Chen Jixia, Zhou Youting.
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