The Hollywood Reporter – ‘On Happiness Road’ (‘Xing Fu Lu Shang’): Film Review | Filmart 2018





5:00 PM PDT 3/20/2018 by Clarence Tsui

Taiwanese director Sung Hsin-yin’s animated feature debut is an ambitious, affecting mix of history and nostalgia that avoids cheap sentimentality.

Focusing on a Taiwanese thirtysomething’s bittersweet memories of her own rite of passage, On Happiness Road (Xing Fu Lu Shang) is at once an affecting ode to its director’s youth, a tribute to old-school hand-drawn animation and a reflection of the sweeping social changes in Taiwan during the past three decades. It’s an ambitious mix of nostalgia, aesthetics and history, and first-time feature filmmaker Sung Hsin-yin has delivered a film which is at times overwhelming — with its brimming emotions, myriad characters and allusion to landmark political events — to the point of distraction.

Still, the pic deserves so much more than the disappointing gross of $428,420 it has generated since its release in Taiwan on Jan. 5. Five years in the making and produced with a budget of around $2 million, Sung’s feature is a labor of love which is pleasantly devoid of cheap sentimentality. Steering clear of the simplistic emotions that drives recent nostalgia-fests such as

You Are the Apple of My Eye or Our Times, the journalist-turned-director seeks to question rather than reinforce the notions of happiness as represented by either so-called common sense and the popular culture it has spawned.

Referring to the name of the (fictional) Taipei street the protagonist grew up on, the wistfulness of the film’s international title might be a bit misleading. Its original title could also be construed as “On the Road to Happiness,” and Sung could easily have added a question mark at the end to highlight the film’s reflexivity about the slippery nature of bliss. What it definitely isn’t, according to this film, is romance, marriage and U.S. citizenship — a harsh truth which might have led to its underwhelming performance in Taiwanese cineplexes.

While Taiwan’s mass audiences might have been lukewarm in embracing such a locally produced adult-oriented animation, Sung might find more joy on the festival circuit. With its resemblances to Isao Takahata’s melancholic, hand-drawn animation — Only Yesterday comes to mind, as doesGrave of the Fireflies — On Happiness Road was the winner of the grand prize at the Tokyo Anime Festival. After screenings at Busan and then back home at the Golden Horses, where it served as its closing film, Sung’s feature is screening in the Hong Kong International Film Festival’s animation section, with more of such berths to come.

It’s perhaps telling that Sung has ordained her protagonist to be born on April 5, 1975, the very day Taiwan’s authoritarian ruler Chiang Kai-shek died: Here, her trajectory is also that of an island which emerged out of a dictatorship, weathered political confrontations, embraced democracy and also confronted a myriad natural and human-made catastrophes.

But the film begins in the U.S. sometime in the early 2010s, with Chi (voiced by Gwai Lun-mei) learning of her grandmother’s death. Returning home to Taipei, she discovers the sorry state of her parents. Her father (Chen Po-cheng) is wallowing in drink, gambling and lethargy, while her mother (Jane Liao) does multiple jobs and rummages rubbish to make money.

Perhaps unsurprising for a political science graduate whose formative years were defined by Taiwan’s gradual change from a single-party, single-language state into a multi-party, multicultural society, Sung has shaped nearly each of her characters as the embodiment of a certain issue at hand. So there’s Chi’s fair-haired but Chinese-speaking classmate Betty (Penny Huang as a child, Li Chia-hsiu as an adult), a child born out of a U.S.-Taiwan relationship; there’s her cousin Wen (Seediq Bale director Wei Te-sheng), whose political activism as a university student represents the idealist social movements which was, and still is, a driving force for social change in Taiwan.

Class and race also feature prominently in the film. The comical and then tragic life of Chi’s buddy Cheng-an (Alan Hsu), a boy (and man) stuck in that neighborhood where nothing ever much happens, signals the struggles and content of the masses. The most interesting character in the film, however, is Chi’s grandmother (Giwas Gigo), a partly aboriginal matriarch whose wry observations — seen both in flashbacks, but also as a “ghost” talking to the grown-up Chi in the present — combine nuggets of sagely wisdom but also leaves room for the viewer to reflect on how native populations were (and are) seen and treated as “savages” by society and the state.

There are many more different examples of this, with some very subtle (the “mainstreaming” of social and cultural values through the study of correct pronunciation of words related to modern commodities) and some a bit too contrived (the constant references to different presidents in flashbacks, with Chi being a classmate with one of them). While Taiwanese audiences will probably navigate all this just fine, international audiences without a proper knowledge of the island’s history might lose their bearings.

Sung and his animators might also have relied too much on political personalities and events as markers for the settings in which different scenes take place. Here, a character is sometimes seen wearing the same kind of clothes in different eras, and also in reality and in dreams, which becomes a source of confusion for a film comprising multiple leaps backward and forward in time throughout its two-hour running time. For all its flaws, however, On Happiness Road‘s significance goes beyond its quality, and it is certainly a worthy heir to Taiwan’s once-thriving and now-extinct animation film industry.


Production companies: Happiness Road Productions in a presentation with Ifilm and Kaohsiung Film Fund
Voice cast: Gwei Lun-mei, Chen Po-cheng, Jane Liao, Wei Te-sheng
Director-screenwriter: Sung Hsin-yin
Producer: Sylvia Feng
Executive producer: Jeffrey Chen
Animation directors: Huang Shih-ming, Chao Ta-wei
Music: Wen Tzu-chieh
Editing: Tsai Yann-shan, Nell Wang Yen-ni, Sung Hsin-yin
Casting: Lee Hsiu-luan
Venue: Filmart
Sales: Ablaze Image

In Mandarin, Taiwanese and English
111 minutes

Variety – FilMart: Ablaze Animation ‘Happiness Road’ Leads to European Buyers




MARCH 18, 2018 | 04:00PM

Patrick Frater
Asia Bureau Chief

FilMart: Ablaze Animation ‘Happiness Road’ Leads to European Buyers


“On Happiness Road,” the Taiwanese animation that last week won the top prize at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival, has found buyers in Europe ahead of its debut at FilMart.

With sales handled by Ablaze Image, the film was acquired for release in France by Eurozoom and for Spain by Media Solutions Partners.

The film is a drama about a young woman who had found her American dream after persevering with her studies. But, following her grandmother’s death, she returns home to Happiness Road. There she feels nostalgia for her childhood, and is forced to reflect on deeper matters. For Chinese-language audiences, the film boasts a high profile voice cast headed by star actress  Gwei Lun-Mei, and director Wei Te-Sheng.

The film was directed by journalist and photographer turned director, Sung Hsin-yin. Educated in Japan and the U.S., Sung has enjoyed a bright festival career with live action short films “The Red Shoes” and “Single Waltz.” She previously won the best animation prize at the Taipei festival for her earlier animated short, also called “Happiness Road.” Interested in finding universal values through different film genres, Sung is now readying her first live action feature, “Love is a Bitch.”

At FilMart, Ablaze Image is also handling sales of Taiwan drama “Father to Son,” by Hsiao Yu-chuan. The film previously played at the Rotterdam festival, and has a buyers’-only screening this week in Hong Kong.

The company’s latest pick up is the “Scoundrels,” the new film by Hung Tzu-Hsuan. “Scoundrels” stars Wu Kang-ren (“White Ant”,) JC Lin, Nana Lee, and Hsieh Hsin-ying in a crime action story of a down-on-his-luck former basketball player who find himself accused and on the run after a bank robbery.

Screen Daily – Filmart: Ablaze Image scores with animation, picks up ‘The Scoundrels’




19 MARCH 2018

Taipei-based Ablaze Image has sold Taiwanese animation On Happiness Road to Eurozoom for France and Media Solutions Partners for Spain. Sung Hsin Yin’s debut animation feature, about the homecoming of a young woman after living years in the US, won the grand prize at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival last week.

Separately, Ablaze has picked up international rights to The Scoundrels, a Taiwanese action crime drama about a former basketball star who becomes the suspect in a bank robbery and the only witness who can clear his name is in a coma.

The film is the debut feature for Hung Tzu Hsuan from a script by Golden Bell award-winning writer Huang Chien Ming (Wake Up). It stars Wu Kang Ren, JC Lin and Hsieh Hsin Ying, and key heads of department include Golden Horse-nominated cinematographer Chen Ko Chin (Shuttle Life).

Taipei Times – Movie Review: “On Happiness Road”

Part history lesson and part tear-jerking drama, this colorful animation encapsulates Taiwan over the past 40 years while exploring what it means to be happy

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter
4 January 2018
Chi, second from left, makes dinner for her parents in On Happiness Road.

Before even mentioning the well-crafted, tear-jerking story and the whimsical, colorful animations, the most impressive part of On Happiness Road (幸福路上) is how it manages to condense four decades of Taiwanese politics, economics, traditional and pop culture as well as everyday life into 109 minutes without mucking up the narrative.

Of course, the viewer probably needs to have grown up in Taiwan or have a decent understanding of its turbulent recent history to catch all the minute details, but even so, it’s a pretty solid drama following the past and present of a Chi (Gwei Lun-mei, 桂綸鎂), a Taiwanese woman in her 30s who returns home to Happiness Road from the US following the death of her grandmother. There’s so much to explore here, including parental expectations, childhood dreams, fear of having children and the pursuit of happiness. Again, some themes will speak louder to 30- and 40-somethings who went through Taiwan’s education system, but they are still universal enough for foreign audiences.

Somehow, all of this nicely fits into one movie — although the resulting emotional rollercoaster does leave the audience a bit exhausted at the end. It is an impressive debut from Sung Hsin-ying (宋欣穎), who started making this film after winning the NT$1 million top prize for the Golden Horse Film Project Promotion in 2013.

Born on April 5, 1975, the day former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) died, Chi experienced the entire transition from martial law and autocratic rule to democracy. Her early experiences encapsulate the era perfectly, from being forced to speak Mandarin in school, to her father being addicted to buying Patriotic Lottery (愛國獎卷) tickets. Chiang was still hailed as a “great man” back then, and Chi wanted to follow his example as a child. The references are very detailed, down to using the old translation for Disneyland (迪士奈, dishinai) instead of the current dishini (迪士尼).

Chi’s friends represent a cross-section of Taiwanese society, from the mayor’s son to the daughter of a US serviceman who abandoned her mother to a child who moonlights as a “spirit medium” that predicts the Patriotic Lottery’s winning numbers. They all have different backgrounds, dreams and fates, but it’s all part of the Taiwanese experience.

Almost no stone is left unturned, as Sung even gives Chi an Aboriginal grandmother to highlight the diversity of Taiwanese culture that was suppressed back then. Her personal experiences reflect the larger picture as she is bullied due to the controversial Wu Feng (吳鳳) story in the textbooks that painted Aborigines as bloodthirsty savages that were only “reformed” through Wu’s sacrifice. This story brought shame to many Aboriginal children and would be a focal point of the later Aboriginal rights movement.

As society changes, Chi’s world view does too, especially when her older cousin is arrested and tortured for reading the banned book by historian and independence activist Su Beng (史明), Taiwan’s 400-Year History (台灣人四百年史). The entire story follows this vein, seamlessly incorporating the social and political changes in Taiwan as Chi’s life progresses into present day. Even her time in the US coincides with major events such as the 9/11 attacks, which can make things feel a bit systematic or formulaic, but it works for the most part as the audience knows what to expect, creating a sense of order of all the underlying elements between each sequence.

The dialogue will be immediately relatable to most Taiwanese as Chi struggles to fulfill her parents’ expectations well into her 30s. But connecting the Taiwanese perspective to the world is the general theme of happiness, hence the film name. Chi has gone from a poor family who believes that having enough to eat equals happiness to achieving the American Dream, but she is still not happy. As she looks back at all the influences that shaped her life, things begin to make some sense.

Even though rooted in reality, the animation is playful as we frequently visit Chi’s dreams, imaginations and fears. The captivating illustrations are the finishing touches to the excellent story and history lesson, adding a sense of the magical to the tale that might otherwise fall a bit on the gloomy side. Her dead grandmother also frequently appears to help her out at times, topping off the fantastical elements that make this film truly a gem.

Film Notes
On Happiness Road
DIRECTED BY: Sung Hsin-ying (宋欣穎)
STARRING: Gwei Lun-mei (桂綸鎂) as Chi, Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖) as Wen, Liao Hui-chen (廖慧珍) as Mom, Chen Po-cheng (陳博正) as Dad
LANGUAGE: Taiwanese, Mandarin and English with Chinese and English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 109 Minutes