Release Date: 2020
Duration: 108 mins.
Director: Teddy Chin
Writer: Ryan Tu (Script),
Starring: Lee Lee-zen, Ruby Lin, Jack Tan, Keshap Suria, Tou Kyzer,
The human heart can be the most powerful thing as it always burns with the embers of hope for love, companionship and empathy even in the most difficult circumstances. That is what links all humans. Miss Andy is all about that hope in the face of such awful loneliness.
A Malaysian-Taiwanese co-production, it was directed by Teddy Chin, a director, actor and screenwriter. He turns in a handsomely lensed film with some melodrama and a lot of melancholy as a transgender person simply seeking some human companionship in modern-day Malaysia seemingly finds it with other victims of persecution. Together, they hope for better days but being in ever crueller situations reveals the worst of human nature. These darkest moments serves to highlight the isolation that people can feel and the need to connect with others.
When the film opens we meet Evon (Lee Lee-zen), formerly known as Andy, going through one of the most humiliating periods of her life. Just picked up by the police after a desperate attempt at sex work goes wrong, she endures dehumanising treatment that culminates in a degrading strip search. Surviving this loss of dignity, Evon then loses her best friend in violent circumstances and this leaves her reeling as she finds herself alone in the world. Her life has been one of loss. Having transitioned late in life whilst married and with two kids, Evon ended up losing her family and steady employment and now she finds herself really struggling.
After spending the opening documenting the ostracisation and violence that transgender people endure the narrative offers Evon a meeting with people in even more desperate circumstances, a Vietnamese illegal immigrant who goes by the name of Sophia (Ruby Lin) and her cute boy named Kang (Tou Kyzer). The two are fleeing a violent relationship and haven’t got a place to stay, food to eat or any citizenship papers which means they are desperate for Evon’s help. Empathetic after losing everything, her kindness is easily won especially by little Kang’s cuteness and innocence as he accepts Evon without question and this unthinking ability to accept others gives the film its heart.
The miserable set up is long and the rest of the film is spent showing the three tentatively forming a family of sorts. Little acts like offering a place to stay, cooking food and eating together warms the screen and provides the characters with the salve of kindness needed to endure ever-precarious situations of being undocumented immigrants and Evon’s unfulfilled emotional and sexual needs as she is rebuffed by others including her family.
We are ever aware that the characters may not get synchronised into the archetypal feel-good patchwork family due to the various social impediments they have and this leaves the narrative open to going back to the brink of misery but it never becomes maudlin and it moves at a gentle pace that allows us to get to know how the characters feel. The mere sense of belonging in a relationship where kindness is shown brings light to the dark world they inhabit and we are always aware of this due to the strong directorial style exhibited by Teddy Chin as he foregrounds the actors.
Most of the shots are mid or close-up so we view their faces and physical interactions quite intimately. A lot of attention goes into the lighting in the film where strong blocks of red and blue light up the characters in the throes of emotion and dejection respectively. The Taiwanese leads are solid in their roles. Singer/actor Lee Lee-zen does a fine job as Evon. He resists being showy and goes for stoicism while allowing the hurt to be etched into his long face, the restrained, thwarted desire radiating from his body. It is a strong central performance that others can form around. Actress Ruby Lin in the role of Sophia doesn’t quite stick as a maternal figure despite looking deglammed but she gives a sense of a survivor which makes the duplicitous actions that crown the film feel real and allow for a sad denouement.
A lot goes on in the relationships between the characters and in themselves as they experience various forms of danger and prejudice as transgender people and immigrants. Most of it is by the numbers but it is well done, especially in the direction which centres the faces of the actors who do well to tell the story of their emotional ups and downs, how a lack of empathy leads to cruelty and, finally, heartbreak but, conversely, showing how hope and kindness nourishes human souls regardless of the physical body and legal status it inhabits.
My review for Miss Andy was first published over at VCinema on March 16th.