In 1949 the communists attained victory in China, and the remainder of the nationalist KMT, or Kuo Min Tang, fled to Taiwan. They thought they would be returning soon to the mainland, and many left relatives behind, never expecting a separation of decades.
This is the background to the story of My Rice Noodle Shop, which follows one woman, Rong'er, the owner of said shop, and a few of her customers, all from the picturesque region of Guilin. Rong'er was herself the daughter of a noodle-shop owner, though back in Guilin, she had experienced none of the hardships that would beset her later. Her customers include an ex-landlord who has, needless to say, come down considerably in the world, and who no longer has his four concubines for comfort. There is also a young teacher, Mr. Lu, who seems to bear some scars of his own. The stories of these emigrés are often shown nicely photographed flashblacks, which the lovely scenery of Guilin lends itself to. These flashbacks also highlight painful contrasts between past and present, wealth and poverty, beauty and ugliness, companionship and loneliness. Only the cook is left 'undeveloped', though he does take part in some of the action in the present.
Almost everyone in the shop has left people behind: husbands, fiancées, sons, and they all seem to be waiting, with fading hopes, for the reunion of these broken relationships. In fact, the ultimate frustration of these long-held hopes forms turning points in several of their stories.
Outside the noodle shop, Rong'er has some friends she plays mahjong with, and a niece she often helps out financially. The timid Mr. Lu, who rents a room nearby, has to deal with a nymphomaniac young woman, even while nursing the memory of his childhood love and fiancée.
So much for the characters, setting and basic plot. The actors acquit themselves well in their roles, and the main actress, Carol Cheng has been well cast. She convincingly plays the 'grass-widow' who is now the wrong side of forty, idealises the past and is unsure of the future. The mostly older male customers also seem very authentic.
One might argue that Hou Hsiao Hsien and Edward Yang have also dealt with the question of mainlanders living in exile, with their frustrated hopes and the pains of relationships separated by the Taiwan Strait. Their works are revered at home and awarded internationally, but theirs are not the only voices. With the question of cross-strait relations constantly arising, as well as mainlander-Taiwanese identities still being quite fluid, how can there not be a plethora of movies that touch on the subject? Xie Yang has added his voice to these others with this film, which might be simpler, or lighter than Hou or Yang, but is hardly a feel-good alternative. There are humorous moments, and tragic ones also.
I'd recommend this film to anyone interested in either Taiwanese films or the historical situation of Taiwan. It is more accessible than Hou's and Yang's works dealing with the same issues, and might even serve as a palatable introduction for the westerner interested in approaching their, more weightier, works. It is well photographed, scripted and acted, with a strain of nostalgic melancholy running through it that harmonises well with the subject matter.
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