Not to many films from Taiwan get featured on the site. It’s not because we don’t enjoy them, it is because there are so few great films from that region. The Fourth Portrait definitely belongs to the best Taiwan has to offer. The Fourth Portrait paints a picture of the life of a young boy who struggles to find his place in a world of poverty and domestic violence. As you can imagine, the theme runs deep and dark and is for mature audiences only. The film depicts his journey growing up and how he manages to face up to his own experiences with family and friends. Whereas the first half of the film still had some levity, Chung takes the latter half in a decidedly darker course with the subplot of Chung’s older brother’s unsolved disappearance.
The Fourth Portrait is probably one of the realest and most heartwarming family dramas I’ve seen in a bit. Mostly due to the uniformly excellent performances of each and every one of its cast. More often than not, immediately after feeling sad for the characters, the scene changes and we’re brought into another sub-story. It’s a wonderful balance that is mostly fueled by Chung’s exquisite styling and his ability to take the edge of some of the more questionable actions of the characters. Although some key elements of the story aren’t fully developed, this film wishes that the audience would take life and death in a light-hearted manner.
We soon get to learn about the shortcomings of this new family where the (ex-convict) mother views marriage as a mere convenience in achieving a better life. This obviously doesn’t set the best example. She is incapable of caring for him despite having the desire to as she tries hard to make ends meet. The settings are typically decaying old buildings with a greyish tone to convey the sadness of the film. He finds comfort in drawing and his work reveals his longing for care and affection. It is what fills up the void in the boys pitiful life.
Director Mong-Hong Chung‘s minimalist film is his big ticket to art-house fame and one I know people who appreciate slower films will love. Throughout the film the boy searches for love and and a place to belong. I’m sure we can all relate to this at some point or another in our lives. This film’s recently achieved some awards at the Taipei Golden Horse, which was what lured me to it in the first place. If you are wondering how the film gets its title, you will know that it is better to unravel this mystery by watching it. For those who do, you’ll be rewarded with a moving portrait of finding one’s identity. However, as a caution to my readers, you should be well advised that it will take patience to get there.