DAYS BEFORE THE MILLENNIUM
徘徊年代Directed by Chang Teng-yuan
Cast: Annie Nguyen, Chen Shu-fang, Nguyen Thu Hang, Steven Chiang Chang-hui
Official Selection, 2021 Busan International Film Festival
In the 1990s, twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War, an informal export economy of Vietnamese migrant wives had begun all across East Asia, sending women off to foreign countries under precarious migrant conditions and marriages with mysterious men. At the center of DAYS BEFORE THE MILLENNIUM, Chang Teng-Yuan’s forceful directorial debut, is Nguyen Van Tue (Annie Nguyen), one such woman who, through a marriage broker, fled her still-recovering post-war nation to Taiwan, the place she and many Vietnamese women believed to be “a country of riches.” But like so many stories of migration, the reality of life in Taiwan is far from what Tue had imagined: when her husband Ming (Chiang Chang-Hui), who has struggles of his own, becomes abusive, her only alternative of escape means risking deportation if a divorce finalizes too soon.
Epic in scope, DAYS BEFORE THE MILLENNIUM is a layered transnational drama that attempts to weave macro and micro, tracing the vicissitudes of national histories and personal lives. Tue’s life becomes a signifier of multitude things: the intersecting geopolitical trajectories of two countries troubled by their own national pasts and disparate economic developments, the lack of protections afforded to Southeast Asian migrant wives, and the institutional barriers to escape abuse that women broadly face in Taiwan. Split in two parts, the film takes an abrupt tonal and aesthetic shift in a second half (set in the critical year of Formosa Plastics’ toxic waste spill and marine life disaster in Vietnam) filled with the hauntings of time, as the past continues to reveal itself in the present, one that has seen dramatic developments in both countries, and seems hopeful for change.