Local director Mina Shum weaves a tale of infidelity and immigration in her new film.
The plot for Mina Shum’s new Vancouver-set movie, Meditation Park, hit her “like a lightning bolt.” It was the summer of 2016, and the director was driving to Third Beach with her mother and a car full of kids. “My mom leans across and whispers in Cantonese, ‘The cat has caught a new fish,’ and I was like, ‘Wait. What?’” The gossip was hardly revelatory—a middle-aged relative had taken a new mistress—but there was something about the way her mother phrased it that gave Shum (Double Happiness; Ninth Floor) pause. “In that moment, I realized how much I love the Cantonese language and the resilience of women,” she says when we meet the morning after Meditation Park opened the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival (the film is set to open in cinemas March 9). “And then I thought, ‘Older woman, thong,’ and I was off.” The impact of infidelity in immigrant families particularly intrigued her as she sat down to work on the script. “There just happened to be a lot of stories in my family at the time. So many women who immigrated before liberation hit Hong Kong remain frozen. It’s the encoding of that generation.” With an impressive cast—Sandra Oh, Don McKellar and Hong Kong superstars Cheng Pei-Pei and Tzi Ma—Meditation Park follows Maria (Cheng) as she navigates first the shock, and then the fury, of her husband’s affair. Her awakening includes stalking him around Chinatown by bicycle (Cheng’s daughter stood in for her pedal-challenged mom) and gradually finding independence from her isolated domesticity through friendship with the ebullient neighbourhood women busy renting their garages out to PNE visitors. “In my upbringing, the mantra is ‘Listen to your father. Listen to your husband. Listen to your sons,’ Shum says. “I think one of the reasons the film is not cynical or bitter is because the women want to serve. They were taught at a very young age that to serve, to be needed, is the most important thing. But they have put in their time and now, if they are alone, they are determined to do exactly what they want.” Shum has lived in Hastings–Sunrise for 23 years, the past 13 in the same house. “I love the world of this movie,” she says. “I made this movie about a block away from my home, so it is my world. I see these women every day. I see what they are doing and how they are dressed, and I’m like, ‘Rock on.’ They give me a lot of courage because they don’t care what people think. They have solidarity among themselves, and they just don’t care.”