My Heavenly City to be released in UK cinemas by Trinity CineAsia from 11 November.
This feature debut of New York-based Taiwan director Sen-I Yu tries to tell a sincere story that reveals life in NYC from the eyes of foreigners. But the sincerity collapses to an unconvincing, Modern-Love-like, pretentious fantasy regardless of the city.
My Heavenly City is a 2023 film by an emerging director Sen-I Yu. The film encompasses three simple short stories, with their protagonists representing different groups of ordinary Asian immigrants. They explore individually the sense of belonging, the love when you are young, and the love and pain in a broken family.
In the first story, a postgraduate student, Mavis, feels homesick and lonely all the time. She met a 16-year-old illegal immigrant, Xiaojian, when she was doing her part-time, interpreter job for a youth care centre. Their friendship gradually developed. And typically, they start to share their memories about the food from home they all missed in common. Until one day, the ICE decided to take Xiaojian away.
The second story, a rather cliche romance story, is about an overseas student, Jack, who loves hip-hop dance but has to study computer science by his mom’s order. He encountered a Singaporean exchange student, Lulu, who also loves hip-hop a lot. They fall in love. But when the summer approaches, Lulu will have to go back to Singapore. In the meantime, Jack received an internship offer from a tech company and decided to stay in New York.
The third story, which is the only satisfactory piece of the whole film, credited to the performance of the actors, depicts the tense, tired relationships in an Asian family because their son is mentally ill and starting to be violent to his mom. This longest short approaches some identical issues in East Asian families and the living situation of middle-aged, middle-class immigrants in NYC, telling a story about understanding and curing each other.
The three shorts are unrelated to each other while having some dreary, non-creative connections. Something from one story will overlap with another, like a notebook lost by one character will then be picked up by the protagonist from another short. These designs, sadly, didn’t enhance the storytelling in any way, but they certainly increased the level of affectation of the film.
While neither the mediocre storyline nor the pretentious structure is the worst respect. My Heavenly City is supposed to show the stories in NYC through the scope of Asian foreigners. However, within these three totally different stories, NYC looks exactly the same. The sky is always in a clear grey-blue, the air is always fresh, the lights are always comfy, and the winds always gently breeze no matter which story I am in and what emotion I am supposed to experience.
New York City, a city that enlarges the emptiness of Mavis in the first short, an “amazing city but also makes me feel lost” to Lulu in the second, a city that attaches the most enjoyable and painful memories of one father in the third story, was filmed like a duplicated background, a glass jar in a soft-tone colour packing up the story of Asian immigrants while itself is irrelevant to it.
Or showing the irrelevance is the real intention of the film? “It is the meaning of the city to you that matters,” said Sen-I Yu in an interview about My Heavenly City. If I were the interviewer, my follow-up question would definitely be: “What is this film about then?” I am more confused if the film has nothing to do with the city.
This review does not reflect on the view of the organisation.