European Festival Premiere
親愛的房客 (Qin Ai De Fang Ke)
Taiwan, 2020, 107’, Mandarin, Taiwanese
Directed by: Cheng Yu-chieh
Script: Cheng Yu-chieh
Photography (color): Meteor Cheung
Editing: Chan Hsiao-tung, Cheng Yu-chieh
Production Designer: Chen Po-jen
Music: Fran Chen
Producers: Yang Ya-che, Cheng Yu-chieh
Cast: Mo Tzu-yi (Lin Chien-yi), Bai Runyin (Yo-yu), Chen Shu-fang (Mrs. Chou), Yao Yao-Chun (Li-wei), Jay Shih (Li-gang), Wu Pong-fong (Sergeant), Cherry Hsieh (Prosecutor Chang), Wang Ko-yuan (Eric)
Date of First Release in Territory: October 23rd, 2020
The smartest thing about Cheng Yu-chieh’s Dear Tenant is how it effortlessly defies genre expectations. When we first meet protagonist Chien-yi (Mo Tzu-yi) in the opening scene, he is sitting inside a jail cell, about to face trial for murder and drug use. But as Cheng gradually peels back his multi-layered narrative, he reveals a quietly moving domestic drama about love and sacrifice at its core.
After the ominous opening, Dear Tenant flashes back to more normal times in the Chou household. Chien-yi has been a tenant in the rooftop add-on above his landlady Mrs. Chou (Chen Shu-fang) and her grandson Yo-yu (Bai Runyin) for the past five years. However, Chien-yi’s been doing far more than paying the rent; he does the cooking, takes Yo-yu to school and even treats Mrs. Chou’s diabetic foot ulcers. It turns out the reason is that Chien-yi was actually the lover of Mrs. Chou’s late older son, and she still blames Chien-yi for his death.
When Mrs. Chou dies, her younger son discovers that his mother has left her flat to Chien-yi. More suspicions begin to mount against Chien-yi when narcotics are found in Mrs. Chou’s system, and the police learn that he had a sexual encounter with a local drug dealer after meeting on a gay dating app.
Up to this point, Cheng’s narrative has a vibe similar to the works of popular Japanese mystery author Higashino Keigo. The number one rule of a good murder mystery is that the most obvious clues are probably red herrings, so we already know that Chien-yi is likely to be innocent. However, the truth behind Mrs. Chou’s death won’t come as much surprise to mystery fans in the end. Like the outcome in some of Higashino’s best mysteries, the answer to Mrs. Chou’s death isn’t aimed at the brain, but the heart. The strength in Cheng’s script is that how Mrs. Chou died doesn’t matter; it’s why it happened that carries the story to an emotional catharsis. In fact, it’s more telling that the suspicions surrounding Chien-yi come from the characters’ inherent distrust and internal prejudice against Chien-yi as a gay man more than anything else.
It’s impossible to discuss Dear Tenant without mentioning Cheng’s cast. Already a multi-award winner for his television work, Mo Tzu-yi finally gets his chance to shine in a film with his Golden Horse-winning performance as Chien-yi. Without a typical award-bait monologue for the character to voice his frustrations, Mo carries his character’s pains on his face in a truly heartbreaking performance. The other highlight is 81-year-old Chen Shu-fang (The Boys from Fengkuei), whose affective scene-stealing performance as Mrs. Chou helped make her the first actress to win Best Supporting and Best Actress prizes at the Golden Horse Awards in the same year (for this film and Little Big Women, respectively). Dear Tenant is at its most moving when Mo, Chen and Bai share the screen as an atypical, but loving family.
Cheng Yu-chieh started his career as an actor, co-starring in the short film Baby Face (2000). He made his first feature film as a director with Do Over (2006), which won the Grand Prize and the Audience Prize at the Taipei Film Festival. His second feature film, Yang Yang (2009), premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. Cheng also co-wrote and directed both seasons of award-winning mini-series The Days We Stared at the Sun (2010 and 2017) and co-directed children’s drama Wawa No Cidal (2015). Dear Tenant (2020) is his third solo directorial effort.
2006 – Do Over
2009 – Yang Yang
2015 – Wawa No Cidal (co-director)
2020 – Dear Tenant