Review: Dear Tenant is a moving drama about the love found within queer families

·3-min read
Dear Tenant, a Taiwanese drama film directed by Cheng Yu-chieh, starring Mo Tzu-yi, Chen Shu-fang and Bai Run-yin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Dear Tenant stars (from left to right) Mo Tzu-yi, Chen Shu-fang and Bai Run-yin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

Rating: R21
Length: 106 minutes
Director: Cheng Yu-chieh
Cast: Mo Tzu-yi, Chen Shu-fang, Bai Run-yin
Language: Mandarin, Taiwanese Hokkien with English and Chinese subtitles

Release date: 3 December 2020 (Singapore)

4 out of 5 stars

Dear Tenant stars Mo Tzu-yi as Lin Jian-yi, a tenant who is looking after an old landlord Hsiu-yu (Chen Shu-fang) suffering from late-stage diabetes and her nine-year-old grandson Wang Yo-yu (Bai Run-yin). Everyone has always regarded him as a kind-hearted gentleman, and he is also well-liked at the music school where he teaches piano.

However, when Hsiu-yu dies under mysterious circumstances, things start to go downhill. Yo-yu’s uncle, Wang Li-gang, is shocked to find out that the ownership of his mother’s apartment has been transferred to Yo-yu, who has been legally adopted by Jian-yi. This means that the apartment is now under Jian-yi’s control.

Jian-yi’s life becomes a mess when Li-gang suspects his mother was murdered by him. To make things worse, evidence seems to not be in the favour of the mysterious tenant.

It is gradually revealed that Jian-yi was the gay partner of Hsiu-yu’s deceased son Wang Li-wei. Jian-yi still cares for Li-wei’s family five years after his death; he shares an especially strong bond with Yo-yu despite the boy not fully understanding the relationship between Jian-yi and his father.

The fact that Dear Tenant received three Golden Horse awards — Best Actor for Mo Tzu-yi, Best Supporting Actress for Chen Shu-fang and Best Original Film Score — is quite a feat already, and rightfully so.

Dear Tenant, a Taiwanese drama film directed by Cheng Yu-chieh, starring Mo Tzu-yi, Chen Shu-fang and Bai Run-yin. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)
Jian-yi shares a strong bond with Yo-yu, the son of his dead partner. (Photo: Golden Village Pictures)

39-year-old Mo delivers a nuanced performance in portraying Jian-yi’s frustrations as he faces homophobic discrimination from other characters. In one particularly eye-opening scene, Jian-yi is questioned by the prosecutor about his motives for taking care of his elderly landlord and the kid. Exasperated by the absurdity of the question, Jian-yi retorts, “If I were a woman, and my husband died and I continued taking care of his family, would you ask me the same question?”

On the other hand, 81-year-old veteran actress Chen brings to life the grandma character, who is internally conflicted with her feelings towards the good-hearted Jian-yi, but also very vexed about her diabetes which is causing her excruciating pain and unspeakable worries. To be able to bring out the depth of a supporting character makes Dear Tenant all the more engaging.

In Dear Tenant, In Dreams is a melancholic song composed and written by Jian-yi, which also serves as the bond between the father and son. Apart from Jian-yi teaching Yo-yu how to play the song on the piano, Yo-yu also casually gives him a suggestion on the lyrics which Jian-yi accepts. Towards the ending, Yo-yu even adds his own tear-jerking lyrics: “Will you be happy? I fly to where you are. Will I be happy? Let’s go home together in our dreams.”

The only thing that needs to be improved about Dear Tenant is the scene with the death of Li-wei. Throughout the whole movie, the two lovebirds have been painted as a happy couple. But suddenly comes the scene where they get into an argument and Li-wei passes away shortly after. It somehow feels a little forced in trying to spice up the level of regret and guilt.

Regardless, Dear Tenant is a must-watch. Whether it is the troubles that the grandma has, or the “dark side” of Jian-yi, the film filled with dilemmas is thought-provoking and tear-inducing. But above it all, it is the bittersweet fatherly love that triumphs.

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