We are indeed fortunate if we get through life without experiencing the betrayal and heartbreak of infidelity. Maria, at 60, never even considered that life would throw her that curveball. Until, that is, she found another woman’s undies in her husband Bing’s pocket. As it translates from Cantonese, “the cat has caught a new fish.”
Mina Shum was inspired to write Meditation Park after her mother said those “code” words indicating a relative was having an affair. Her movie is a complex and compassionate and often funny look at marriage, families, and aging. Moviegoers who have seen some of her earlier work, such as Double Happiness (1994), are familiar with Shum’s themes that speak to the immigrant experience but are universally relatable.
Maria and Bing immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong many decades ago and, being a diligent and obedient wife, Maria has, until now, led a sheltered life in servitude to her husband. With no experience in the matter of unfaithfulness, or emotional expression, or human connection for that matter, she has no idea how to respond to the discovery of the panties. At first shocked, and then infuriated, she decides she needs to find out everything about this “other” woman and proceeds to follow and spy on her husband and his lover. In order to do that, she is forced, for the first time, to explore life outside the confines of her home and restricted world.
Although she has no money, no car and limited English, as she ventures “outside”, Maria discovers that she is capable of more than she thought she was. She is strengthened on her journey by her supportive daughter Ava, even though Ava’s dealing with her own relationship problems.
No longer under her husband’s thumb, Maria has the opportunity to re-connect with her estranged son that her husband unfairly disowned and, by proxy, she was expected to disown. And most delightful are the new friends she makes when she asks them to teach her how to make money renting out parking spots near the PNE. All of these experiences contribute to Maria’s growing and expanding character; Bing soon discovers she is no longer controllable, and tension grows between them.
Shum assembled an outstanding cast for this movie, including long-time friend Sandra Oh, who made her acting debut in Double Happiness, long before her Hollywood success. She is exceptional as Ava and Tzi Ma gives a memorable performance as Bing, but it is the delightful and talented Pei Pei Cheng (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who steals the movie. She imbues Maria with charm and grace, and conveys so much emotion with her facial expressions and body language.
Amazingly, Meditation Park was shot in just 18 days in March 2017, mostly in writer/director Mina Shum’s neighbourhood in East Vancouver where she’s lived for years. So familiar is she in the ‘hood that she told the set decorator just to borrow lingerie from the neighbours when they needed some for a clothesline. It’s refreshing to see Vancouver playing itself, with recognizable locales around the city, including Chinatown and the Renfrew/Hastings area.
Meditation Park is a co-production of the Shuswap Film Society and the Salmar Theatre. It runs for seven nights from Friday, April 13 to Thursday, April 19, with the Film Society hosting Friday and Saturday. The movie plays at 7:30 p.m. nightly and is the bargain price of $5. Can’t beat that.