By Kim Hughes
A tender and achingly tangible story about a woman’s latent self-discovery, writer/director Mina Shum’s Meditation Park is a gem propelled by lead actor Cheng Pei Pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), whose wildly expressive face fires emotion straight to the heart.
Meditation Park is also a thoughtful reflection on the status of immigrant women, who ostensibly benefit from the freedoms of their adopted country… but often really don’t, instead remaining mired in the traditions of the old country and under the thumb of their husbands.
That’s certainly the case for 60-year-old Maria, who defers to her husband Bing (Tzi Ma) so completely that she no longer talks to their son at Bing’s insistence. When Maria discovers Bing is having an affair, the reality of her dependence on him — emotionally, financially, socially — throws her into crisis.
At a loss for answers, but strangely galvanized by her sudden upheaval, Maria begins experimenting with building an independent life, enlisting spirited first-generation daughter Ava (Sandra Oh) to assist.
As Maria seeks employment, learns to ride a bike, and connects with squawking eccentric locals pedalling illegal parking spaces for cash, she discovers what she has been missing in her blind subservience to her husband: a sincere sense of self.
That may sound like dramatic small potatoes but it’s remarkably powerful (and insanely heartfelt) as played by this cast under Shum’s assured direction, which explored similar contrasting new world/old world themes in Double Happiness from 1994. Shot in diverse East Vancouver, the film also mirrors Maria’s shape-shifting (once familiar, now foreign) workaday life while adding a sheen of reality to the film’s bittersweet, gently comedic tone.
Meditation Park. Written and directed by Mina Shum. Starring Cheng Pei Pei, Tzi Ma, Sandra Oh and Don McKellar. Opens March 9 in Toronto (Varsity), Vancouver and Ottawa, and throughout the spring in other cities.