“DEAR TENANT” (親愛的房客)
Love, Identity and the Ties That Bind
In Chinese culture, love is not often said, but rather conveyed by nurture and care in everyday lives. Director Cheng Yu-Chieh‘s “Dear Tenant” captures that intense love from a grieving gay man in a heartbreaking yet heartwarming story.
To many, piano teacher Lin Jianyi (Mo Tzu-yi) is a tenant in his deceased lover Li-Wei’s (Yao Chun-Yao) apartment. In reality, he has been the breadwinner and caregiver to Li-Wei’s 9-year-old son Yo-yu (Bai Run-yin) and Li-wei’s diabetic mother Mrs. Chou (Chen Shu-Fang) for five years. Jianyi’s devotion to Yo-Yu and Mrs. Chou comes out of the love for his late boyfriend Li-wei. However, at the start of the film, when Mrs. Chou spills out harsh words toward Jianyi, there is a hint that Jianyi might have something to do with her son’s death.
When Mrs. Chou’s other son Li-gang (Jay Shih) comes home and discusses the inheritance of the apartment, it doesn’t sit well with Mrs. Chou. She arranges for Jianyi’s adoption of Yo-yu and becomes closer to Jianyi, even though his mysterious past is hidden. When Mrs. Chou’s health gets worse and dies, Li-gang rushes back and is furious about the adoption and the apartment’s ownership. He accuses Jianyi of murdering his mother, and begins a police investigation that tears the family apart. Jianyi’s love toward his late lover and Yo-yu is unshaken despite the turmoil.
In Taiwan, there exists a discriminating and bigoted attitude toward gay relationships even though gay marriage is legal there. The film shows that reality and we are heart-broken by the stories we hear yet we are deeply touched by their love toward each other. This is a moving portrait of unconditional love, gay identity, and the ties that bind in chosen family within the confines of their apartment building. “Dear Tenant” brings together intrigue, and an impassioned plea for LGBTQ+ equality.
It’s uncomfortable to see the ostracized, and justified violence against the LGBTQ+ community and the lack of understanding of the depth of love. It’s not till the end that we truly understand the story in its entirety. Everything comes together to reflect an ending that does not suit a love story; “but a love story it is, nonetheless, one forced to overcome the strongest of blockades, grief.”