For many women in Vietnam, and other countries, marrying a man from Taiwan is the best way out of a dead end life, yet once they get there and are married, that begins to sour and they wind up stuck in a loveless arrangement with a small child to look after. Nguyen Kim-Hong was one of those women, and here she is to tell us all about her experiences: she lived in a small Vietnamese village for her early years, but as she was shy and preferred to stay at home helping her mother, she did not know how she would ever get a husband, since that was the main goal of women in that community. Her solution was to speak to her auntie, who arranged for her to go to Taiwan and meet the man she would wed, which proved a mistake...
Out/Marriage was an unusual documentary in that it was directed by an immigrant woman, not then most obvious choice of filmmaker when she and her contemporaries were usually relegated to the lower tiers of society across the world, and barely given a voice. Nguyen decided to take matters into her own hands, got a camera and began recording her experiences and those of some of her immigrant friends, most of them Vietnamese but one from Indonesia as well, the results not exactly painting an admirable picture of Taiwanese manhood. For most of them, they seem to be addicted to gambling and alcohol and worse, regard their new wives as little more than punching bags to vent their frustrations upon. Not good.
There is a pattern that makes itself plain early on with little variation: the women travel from abroad, marry these men who turn out to be angry drunks frittering away their money on betting, the women get pregnant because they see that as their duty, and then shortly after have to divorce their abusive husbands as life with them becomes unbearable. As Nguyen has personal insight into this, an insider's eye if you like, we get a more intimate telling of these tales of woe than we would from some outsider coming in, well-meaning but possibly patronising, to capture their days as they struggle to pick themselves up after a terrible time. For all of them, they fixate on this idea of future happiness to keep them going, but their present tends to get them down: quite often we see the ladies in tears.
It must be humiliating for Nguyen and her friends to be in this position, and for their children, returning from Taiwan to Vietnamese schools as mixed nationality leaves them prone to bullying and adrift in their identities, though the kids we do see come across as bright and optimistic, which is some comfort to their young mothers. Then there's the issue of finding another man, as they are viewed as "damaged goods" by any prospective husbands who could help them, though we do see a couple of more forward-thinking men accept them as partners. This pressure to get married means misery for most of them, and you can't help but wonder if romance was not so idealised that they may have been more content in themselves to get on with life, with or without a spouse. Nguyen's style was fairly basic, but she did manage to record everything pertinent to her arguments and the glimpses of these lives she wanted to get across (and she wrote and sang the theme tune too), it was fairly disarming to witness what she did assemble, though a solution was lacking. Get better men, would appear to be most pressing.
[Click here to see the Taiwan Film Festival website where this and other films can be watched, 18th-27th September 2020.]