To a whole generation of moviegoers, the name Lu Hsiao-fen/陸小芬 may not ring any bells but back in the 1980s and ’90s, the Taiwanese actress was known as a sex symbol thanks to her performances in such films as A FLOWER IN THE RAINY NIGHT (看海的日子), for which she won a Golden Horse award for Best Actress, and OSMANTHUS ALLEY (桂花巷). Lu is now back on the big screen for the first time in more than 20 years in a film about a hairdresser who holds onto her old-fashioned values, which may not be such a bad thing.
On a modest street in an old part of the central Taiwanese city of Taichung, A-rui (Lu) has operated her barbershop for more than 40 years. Everyone in the community knows her and trusts her with their hair, from the youngest of boys to the oldest of men. With her book of business cards and bulletin board, she keeps track of which of her clients is due for a haircut and she calls them up to politely remind them to come in. It’s all part of her service and her clients love it because they feel welcome and safe in her care. Her two adult daughters, however, just don’t get it. Though both have followed in her footsteps – one is a makeup artist on film sets and the other cuts hair in a busy, popular salon – they feel that their mother shouldn’t be working so hard. One of them suggests that she install a scheduling program to do the follow up work for her but A-rui won’t hear of such modern innovations. It’s during one of her phone calls that she learns that a long-time client is too ill to come in for a trim. A-rui decides to close the shop for the day and drive out to his home in the countryside to cut his hair there. It’s a trip that’s full of surprise and revelation.
Drawing upon her own experiences growing up in her mother’s hair salon, writer-director Fu Tien-yu/傅天余 infuses her story with real-life barber-client interactions that anyone who has ever gone to an old-school barbershop can relate to. It’s a dynamic that is quickly dying out along with the men and women who have been offering their clients a skilled hand and a listening ear for decades. A-rui has an ally of sorts in her ex-son-in-law, Chuan (Fu Meng-po/傅孟柏), a soft-spoken mechanic who, like her, takes a personal approach to his clients, though he is too altruistic with them to his own detriment. As a counterpoint, A-rui’s daughters are modernists and unhappy ones at that. Both are frustrated in their jobs but they still can’t see that Mother might just know best in this situation. The message to audiences appears to be that all our technological conveniences and fixation on social media have taken us away from doing what we really love and making a human connection with others. That’s really what we want. A-rui understands this all too well, and it plays out with the clients who come into her shop, the strangers she meets on her road trip and the family of the man whose hair she goes to cut. They give A-rui the motivation to continue with her old-school ways.
DAY OFF premiered in March at the Osaka Asian Film Festival where it took home both the Yakushi Pearl Award (Best Actress) for Lu and the Audience Award. Just a few weeks ago, it won the Mulberry Award for Best Screenplay at the 2023 Far East Film Festival (FEFF) in Udine, Italy. This may just be the beginning of Lu’s second act.
DAY OFF opens in Hong Kong on Thursday (May 18th). If you’re looking for a touching and tender film to watch, definitely check this one out.
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