Starring Cheng Pei-pei. In English, Cantonese, and Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rated G
How many times have you walked past an old lady with a shopping bag and thought, “I wonder what her story is.”
The charm of Meditation Park is that it answers this universal question in a manner specific to one time and place. A fourth narrative feature for Vancouver’s Mina Shum, this brings back cast members who enlivened her Chinese-familial efforts of roughly two decades ago, Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity. Among them is Sandra Oh, whose pre–Grey’s Anatomy career was launched by those happy-minded efforts. But she takes a back seat to veterans Tzi Ma and Cheng Pei-pei as her character’s parents, Bing and Maria.
These old-timers, both around 70, are doing okay in their East Side Vancouver home, seemingly furnished a half-century ago. Their gender roles are similarly antiquated, with Bing heading off to work and Maria staying home with no money, no car, and barely serviceable English. Dude’s been putting in overtime lately, too, although his wife wonders where when she finds a pair of red panties in his pants pocket. A classic!
How does Maria solve a problem like this? Pretty much the way she handles everything else, by bottling it up inside. That’s how she has dealt with her husband disowning their only son, unseen here, because of a perceived slight. Eventually, she begins to play amateur sleuth, and to explore herself, giving Shum and cinematographer Peter Wunstorf the chance to explore byways of Chinatown and Vancouver’s Renfrew–PNE area. (The movie is named after a tiny slice of green there.)
That amusement centre, also unseen, is the reason locals can meditate on selling spare parking spaces, thus bringing Maria in contact with three dotty local gals and Don McKellar as an initially greedy neighbour. Much like a musical score that’s all over the place, these subplots add both comic and tragic touches that conflict with the more thoughtful tone of the main story, lovingly enacted by Hong Konger Ma (the Chinese general in Arrival) and Shanghai-born Cheng (a villain in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), both based in the U.S. now. Similarly, Oh and screen husband Zak Santiago are handed marital problems out of nowhere, and that’s where they should have stayed. The movie only finds real, if tentative, happiness when it sticks with the timeworn woman and her empty bag.