”Lokah Laqi” – A Tale from a distant Valley

Lokah Laqi (2016), also known as Hang in There, Kids! is a Taiwanese film, written and directed by Laha Mebow known for her interests in local aborigines developed over her eighteen-year film career. Lokah Laqi won five awards, received mostly at the Taipei Film Festival, in the same year of the film’s release. On the surface, the film evokes a warm-hearted feeling for its viewers – it also highlights social, economic and existential problems facing the indigenous Taiwanese. Apart from the main message of this film, viewers get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the secluded, mountainous region, nearly something out of a Taiwanese tourism video.

Lokah Laqi is a story of three twelve-year-old, adolescent, best friends, Watan, Lin Dingdong and ChenHao, aborigines who live in one of the mountainous regions in Taiwan. The film opens with the main character, Watan, standing next to his grandmother at their farm, holding produce in each hand while smiling for a camera crew. The camera crew directs Watan to make a sad face for the camera to better sell the produce. Watan reluctantly complies. The first scene draws the audience’s attention to the potential capitalist exploitation and abuse of aborigines, suggesting that as an aborigine, produce is more easily sold if pity for their poor economic position is also packaged. This idea is carried throughout the film: the boys use their identity for means of profit and illegally sell produce at the district market or other places that represent a demand. Exploitation, then, becomes a question of existence, as the boys struggle to negotiate their position in their own land.

The film continues with the next character, Chen Hao, who lives with his dad, known as Gramps. For Chen Hao, his father is his hero. The mother left them both when Chen Hao was still a baby. We learn throughout the movie that Chen Hao longs for his mother’s love, tries to locate her in Taipei where he believes she has moved. His journey made Chen Hao realizes the true unconditional love and sacrifice Gramps had given him, and that their connection is enough to provide Chen Hao with the strength to face the future.

Lin Dingdong, whose real name is Lin Shan, is a short chubby boy who aspires to be a basketball player. He too looks up to his father who is the lead singer in a band. Due to the father’s drinking problem, however, the family is in shambles. Lin Dingdong tries to save his family by asking his father to control his bad habit. Throughout his journey to maintain stability in his family, Lin Dingdong discovers that his dad has, indeed, tried his best to be a good father for the family. A pivotal scene is when the boys sneak in to listen to the band’s performance. Lin Dingdong and the viewers come to see the father’s guilt in not being an ideal father or one that meets his son’s expectations. This scene softens Lin Dingdong’s heart, and he learns to forgive his father.

Watan who has lost both his father and his grandfather, the person that he looks up to for inspiration is his big brother, Jien Hua, who left to pursue studies outside of the village. Upon his return, Watan forges a loving bond with his brother and asks him to attend his primary school graduation. Incredibly proud of his brother, Watan shares his enthusiasm with Chen Hao and Lin Dingdong, but, unfortunately, learns that his brother is not at all what he had envisioned, but in fact, the very opposite.

Through the boy’s different journeys, the audience senses the troubling dilemmas facing indigenous Taiwanese tribes despite the simple lifestyles they seem to pursue. Mebow uses the Formosan Muntjac (barking deer) to underscore the differences between those of the indigenous tribe and those living in the city (i.e. Taipei). While the animal only appears in two scenes in the film, the Formosan Muntjac plays a central role: it is a source of food to the seemingly simple-minded aborigines, whereas for city dwellers, the animal is regarded as an endangered species, thus protected. This contrast illustrates not only the gap between those living in the mountains and those living in the city, but it also raises the question of the aborigines’ existence. Where do they stand? This too perhaps the question for Watan, Chen Hao, and Lin Dingdong to consider as they negotiate their sense of worthiness and paths in life- either following in the footsteps of their fathers (or in Watan’s case, his brother), or breaking free from the simplicity of their everyday lives to live, instead, in a concrete jungle. A story that documents the hardships of life, pain, and the meaning of sacrifice and love. Rightfully so, this film is translated as Hang in There, Kids!


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