nHermia Lin

It has been a long journey for both filmmaker Jasmine Lee and five female Filipino migrant workers for the past 13 years. Since 1998, Lee began shooting the documentary Money and Honey and closely followed the life of Baby, Lolita, Marlyn, Arlene and Onie, who had come all the way from the Philippines to work in a nursing home in Taiwan.

Money and Honey is one of the five films representing Taiwan in the 2011 Busan International Film Festival. It has been nominated at Busan film festival’s “wide angle” section and will be premiered at the festival on October 9.

Lee told Taipei Film Commission during an interview on October 3 that making documentary is like falling in love with someone you really like, and she does not find the past 13 years a struggle or a nightmare; instead, she is happy that she has the opportunity to share with the audiences the "dreams, vivacity, and financial struggles" of a group of females that she finds inspiring. In Money and Honey, she attempts to present a shared personality and values of Asian women—something that transcends countries and culture, she said.

Lee first came in contact with the Filipino caregivers in 1996, a time when her family made the decision to put her grandmother in a nursing home. "I grew up under the guidance of my grandparents and I was very close to them," she said. At that time, she had got an offer from New York University to pursue a master’s degree in film. Reluctant to see her grandmother live in the nursing home alone, she decided to stay in Taiwan and spend more quality time with her beloved grandparents—a decision she describes as "the most important and the right commitment."

Lee often dropped by the nursing home to see her grandmother, and it was under the gradual development of contact between Lee and the five Filipino caregivers that she began to have a deeper understanding about the dreams and struggles of the migrant workers. "Most of the Filipino female workers come to Taiwan with a dream of providing a better life for their family—be it buying a house or sending their children to college." 

The situation of women in the Philippines is similar to that of Taiwan 20 years ago, meaning women want more independence but at the same time, they have to shoulder the responsibility of earning the money and supporting the family. This often put the Filipino women into being the sole breadwinner in their family, she observed.

Leaving their beloved ones at home, the migrant workers work long hours in the nursing home, with very little rest. "Despite of the demanding workload, no vacation, you always see the big smile on their face. The Filipino female workers know how to laugh their troubles away, and they know how to look things on the bright side," she added.

During the last 13 years of filmmaking, Lee had visited the Philippines for four times, bringing the images she has filmed for the five leads and show them with their families. In the Philippines, the elderly usually are taken care of by the family members. When Lee showed the images of the work conditions in the nursing home, the family members were very surprised by how difficult the work for their mothers/daughters meant to be. Lee said she tries to keep all the diverse perspectives in the film, but the audiences can certainly find her own perspective—which is to raise the question of how to strike a balance between "making money" and "spending time with one’s 'honey.'"

Lee said she is very thankful that her film had won the production subsidies from the Asian Network of Documentary, a subsidiary unit under the Busan International Film Festival. She said the documentary has its special meaning—it is the first Taiwanese film that is shot in a nursing home. "Taiwan has one of the fastest aging populations in the world, but we rarely care about who are taking care of the elderly," she concluded.

Money and Honey, running about 100-minute long, combines poetry, animation and music creation. It is the fourth installment of Lee’s “Realm of Womanhood” tetralogy, following Where is My HomeThe Ballads of Grandmothers, and City of Memories.

This article is from "Taipei Film Commission"


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