On Happiness Road 幸福路上 (2018)
Directed and written by Sung Hsin Ying, On Happiness Road is Taiwanese animated drama based on Sung’s 2013 award-winning short. The story is about a woman named Lin Shu Chi (Gwei Lun Mei) who grew up with her parents in a fictional friendly neighbourhood called “Happiness Road” before moving to the United States alone and has since lived there for many years. She is troubled by her marriage and hasn’t been happy at all lately. She returns to her hometown for her grandmother’s funeral and feels nostalgic about her childhood. She begins to question about her life decisions and wonders if it was worth it at all leaving her one true home to chase the American dream.
It may seem like a very personal story but anyone from a Chinese family who lived through similar culture and ordinary modest lifestyle in the 70’s to the 90’s will find this film highly relatable and nostalgic, even if you’re not from Taiwan. The narrative switches between Shu Chi’s present and linear flashbacks from her childhood to adulthood. At the beginning, I thought I would be bored by film as I didn’t immediately like the art style and it spends quite a bit of screen time on typical fantasies and imaginations of a child. But everything, and I do mean everything, gradually grew on me as the story progresses.
Through the heartfelt writing, unique 2D hard-drawn animation and great voice work by Gwei (most known for playing the role of Jay Chou’s love interest in the latter’s 2007 film Secret) as Shu Chi, I could genuinely feel the joy, love, pain and uncertainties of the protagonist’s life. From her innocent, scary and carefree childhood where she gets excited with simple things such as a nice new school bag and meeting new people at class, to her teenage days of reading romance novels, influenced by western culture, struggling with her studies and getting involved in political activities despite of her parents’ disapproval, to her adulthood where it’s simply a roller coaster.
These experiences and situations do occur in real life to a lot of people and I find it absolutely resonating to see all of that portrayed in such a relatable cultural setting to me. The last Taiwanese film I’ve seen that managed to give me a similar nostalgic experience was You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011) which was based on its director Giddens Ko’s autobiography but the story focuses mainly on his high school romance. On Happiness Road, however, is far more than just that.
Dark, cruel and yet heartwarming and funny at times, the film is really like a true story that can strike a chord with many. It also explores deep, real-life questions and issues, and boldly offers fulfilling answers while effectively conveying the meaning of family and “home”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any animated drama with a story as relatable, emotionally engaging and powerful as On Happiness Road.
What I would’ve named the film: “American Dream and White Guy Captured But Life Still Sucks, How?”
Malaysian censorship: I doubt anything needs to be censored at all.
Verdict: It can be considered a masterpiece to the right audiences and to me, it is.
Rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Animated drama
Running Time: 111 minutes
Director-writer: Sung Hsin-ying (宋欣穎)
Voice Cast: Gwei Lun-mei (桂纶镁), Wei Te-sheng (魏德圣), Chen Po-cheng (陈博正), Jane Liao (廖慧珍)
Malaysia Release Date: 5 July 2018 (GSC International Screens only)
Local Distributor: GSC Movies
Production: On Happiness Road Productions