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October 10, 2023

7 Days in Heaven

7 days in heaven.jpeg

Fu hou qi ri
Essay Liu & Wang Yu-Lin - 2010
Cheng Cheng Films

In 7 Days in Heaven, the weeklong preparations for a funeral get in the way of the closest remaining family having time to remember the deceased. The film takes place in a rural village in Taiwan, where there are traditions as part of the period of mourning, although some have idiosyncratic twists under the auspices of a ceremonial priest, Yi, with a flexiblilty to lead ceremonies that are recognizably Buddhist as well as more folk practices and a professional funeral arranger, Chin. The film is adapted from Essay Liu's writing, "Seven Days after Father", available online, about the absurdities she noted in her own experience.

The film opens with the delirious scene of Yi wearing his priest's robes in front of a family altar, dancing to Harry Belafonte singing, "Hava Negila". Chin is a woman whose main profession is that of professional mourner, flinging herself in front of coffins, wailing loudly. The character of Mei is Liu's stand-in in the film as the source writing was done in the first person. Chin has Mei and the others follow a script every day determining when and how they should be expressive of their mourning. Part of the ceremonies includes a memorial service at a tent with two very tall stacks of canned drinks arranged to resemble the Eiffel Tower, and a brief musical interlude from a high school marching band. Prior to being sent off to the crematorium, the father's favorite cigarettes and girlie magazine with be with him in his passage to the afterworld.

The narrative breaks for flashbacks, memories of the father. It is not until the various ceremonies are over that the family members experience their own sense of grief. Mei tries to effect an escape not only from rural Taiwan, but also Taipei, by taking a job involving international travel throughout Asia.

A curious change from Liu's original piece in its conversion to film is that her original story references only Buddhism, while in the film there is a hodgepodge of religious expression. Since there is virtually no available information on Liu, my guess is that she has chosen to express a sense of skepticism towards religious and folk beliefs in general. Curiously, Liu's previous film work was co-writing the film Mailie (2005), also about the Chinese tradition of of the seven day period between death and cremation. While Liu's career has been in writing screenplays, co-director Wang Yu-Lin has directed three more films.

7 Days in Heaven is available on DVD and on several VOD platforms.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 10, 2023 06:53 AM