Let’s face it: perfectly normal dads everywhere would openly admit to it, if they knew we’d keep this a secret from the rest of the macho world. And what secret might that be? Well, dads all love a soppy tribute to fathers, be it a song or a dance or, in this case, a film.
Yes it’s been a super long time for this former film student and teacher, but I want to write a short review here about the most recent film I saw with the rest of my family. Called “Looking Up”, it was just that, a soppy tribute to fathers (and sons) everywhere. I mean even the end credits of the movie made it a point to declare it in two short lines pasted clearly down the screen, just in case you were comatose and only woke up at the end for the credits.
Not that I was or would ever be comatose when it comes to a good movie. I especially love a good soppy, cry-til-all-tissues-in-the-box-are-gone movie. And if the theme is all about how wonderful we dads are? Even better!
The plot was simple enough. A successful astronaut was about to embark on a journey to outer space as his country launched their first ever mission to the stars. What could be more exciting and adventurous right? Plus being the first meant that this man was now a hero to his fellow countrymen, and a household name to boot. But in the opening scene of the film where he and his fellow astronaut buddy/captain were about to take off, there was the usual pre-trip media conference. There, one reporter ask them what would they want to say to their family members before they set off. The captain guy had no problem with this question, since his wife and little girl were right there in the front row of the conference.
Our protaganist? Well, the seat that was assigned to his family was empty.
That set off a chain of memories for him, taking us viewers back 30 years to when he was a little boy of about five or six, living in a small town that was about to witness a major event. The event? The passing of their country’s version of the Olympic torch through their town. This little boy (our hero) called Flying Horse, was part of a children’s contingent to welcome the local heroes that would be bearing the torch. The torch bearers were about to reach the town’s newly-built suspension bridge. What was especially fantastic was that the lead torch bearer for the leg of the journey leading to the bridge was the brilliant architect/engineer who built it. And that was none other than the father of Flying Horse.
It was supposed to have been a proud and momentous occasion for Flying Horse and his doting dad, who (just before the event) was busy building a globe made from an old worn-out football for his son. Unfortunately, the worst thing imaginable happened next. Just as the dad holding the torch ran up to Flying Horse to whisk him off his feet and carry the little boy (with the brand new hand-made globe) over the bridge, the entire construction collapsed! What was supposed to be a proud moment became a moment of intense shock and humiliation.
Things fell apart thereafter. The father was court-marshalled for designing a faulty bridge and jailed. He also turned from being the town hero to the town zero. Everyone thought he had cut corners and pocketed stash from bridge-building suppliers throughout the construction, with scant heed to safety. The tragedy of course we later realised was that someone had sabotaged his project. But who?
Perhaps the greater tragedy was that he basically missed out on the next eight to ten years of his son’s growing up. The mother had remarried and moved the boy to a boarding school and kept him pretty much away from visiting the father the whole time. The boy was miserable and grew up a resentful student rebel, never believing he would amount to anything, and missing/hating his absentee father. The father though, kept up his spirits throughout the difficult years in the slammer, holding on to the hope that one day soon he will be reunited with Flying Horse.
That time eventually came, though it was a difficult one. The boy was about to be expelled from his school for the mildest of misdemeanours (he had a nasty principal), and he would in fact have been if not for the father appearing on the scene just in time to challenge the principal to a bet. The bet was that he the father could coach his son to become one of the top ten students in the entire school, even though he was currently among the worst ten.
As the film continued to unfold, we the viewers get to see the father’s unorthodox methods of teaching his son. These would include unplanned trips to rural fields to lie on the grass and experience nature, to ‘truancy-trips’ in the final fortnight before exams across the country, to discover her rich history and heritage so the son can learn beyond the rigidity of the classroom and the dryness of his many textbooks.
Needless to say, the boy did well, as we would all expect. And the nasty principal lost his bet.
In between of course were many intricate details of the father-son journey that made me reach for the tissue several times. But that’s what a soppy film tribute to fathers would do to just about anyone right?
I won’t spoil the key plot points for you, like why his father wasn’t at that media conference I mentioned earlier, or how they both overcame the obstacles that kept getting in the way of the father clearing his sullied reputation over that bridge. Or his son making it as one of only two astronauts selected for the honourable space mission.
What I will say is that my sons watched it with me, and it gave me a rich opportunity to bond with them and reassure them how dads feel about their kids. I shamelessly milked every tear-jerking moment in the movie to let my kids know that I love and affirm them, the way the architect father loved and affirmed his kid no matter what the story’s many naysayers said about them.
So, if you’re a dad like me, and you want to connect with your kids in a deep and abiding way like I did, then go catch this film (preview trailer here) wherever you can find it.
But just a warning: it’s made in China so if you don’t speak the language, and dislike reading English subtitles, then sorry. You might want to try another movie instead (suggestions available here).