Review: Dear Tenant (San Diego Asian Pacific Film Festival)

Title: Dear Tenant 
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Director: Cheng Yu-Chieh
Starring: Morning Tzu-Yi Mo, Shufang Chen, Run-Yin Bai
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins

What It Is: Lin is not just a tenant, but the caretaker of his ailing landlord, who also happens to be the mother of his late partner, Li Wei. Her side passing incites an inheritance battle between Lin and Li Wei’s brother who refuses to acknowledge Li Wei’s past relationship with a man. DEAR TENANT is a courtroom drama and tender romance, and a story of unbreakable bonds that test the limits of acceptance even after Taiwan’s landmark legalization of same-sex marriage.  – 2021 SDAFF Program

What We Think: Dear Tenant unfurls the story of Lin (Morning Mo) slowly, beginning with him being brought into a courtroom, staring blankly forward as inaudible verbiage is heard around him. His stare, compiled with the defeated demeanor, perfectly reflects the weight of the whole film.

We see the character’s personalities introduced in how they interact with Lin, set before the opening scene. Mrs. Chou (Shu-Fang Chen) silently observes him as her son Li-Gang (Jay Shih) acts as the ever-doting son and uncle to Chou’s young grandson Yo-Yu (Run-yin Bai). Lin cooks and serves the family and then attempts to leave, but is asked to remain by Li-Gang. 

Mrs. Chou later asks Lin to bandage a wound on her leg, watching him with contempt, as she reminds him that all his selfless deeds will never console her for the loss of her son, Li-Wei (Chun-Yao Yao).

With this it is through a tapestry of heartbreaking moments that we come to learn the true nature of Lin’s presence in the home, and why so many of his actions seem self defeating. It’s hard not to empathize with Shu-Fang’s portrayal of a grieving mother, determined to do what is best for her grandson; but the homophobia that lightly colors the decisions of each character’s interaction with Lin still draws ire, and reminds you of the strong culture blocks still in place in Taiwan. 

Our Grade:  A, This film is a cinematic love story at its best, and delves beyond the initial attraction, into the heartbreaking after. Lin’s emotional self-flogging only speaks to the level of devotion he held for his lost love, and how much he endures to fulfill their last wish. 

From the Police Sergeant’s drive to find guilt in Lin’s actions, putting fault in things as simplistic as Lin’s want to find physical reprieve in another soul; to the Prosecutor’s determination to uncover the truth, Lin’s story brings forth the ongoing issues of homophobia in countries like Taiwan that have passed LGBTQ+ affirming laws.    

It’s uncomfortable to recognize the subtleties that have long ostracized, and justified violence against the LGBTQ+ community. The judgment passed for Lin’s steps, rooted in his heartbreak and ongoing grieving, show a lack of understanding of the depth of love he held. 

It’s not till the end that we truly understand the story in its entirety, all the pieces coming together to reflect an ending that does not suit a love story; but a love story it is nonetheless, one forced to overcome the strongest of blockades, grief. 

The film previewed at the San Diego Asian American Film Festival by your Melanin Gifted Film Critic.