Featured image: Run Yin-Bai as Ah-Keat in Hello! Tapir. (Courtesy of Fantasia Film Festival.)
Directed by Kethsvin Chee. Written by Kethsvin Chee, Chris Leong, Yoon Yee Teh. Starring Run Yin Bai, Lee Zen Lee, Hsueh Feng Lu. Runtime 1h 29 min. Hello! Tapir had its Canadian Premiere as part of the Fantasia Film Festival on August 14.
Hello! Tapir is exactly the kind-of film that hits me in the emotional feels; one of those kind-of films that use fantasy to deal with our own grief. Films like Bridge to Terabithia come to mind for that, as well as more direct comps in A Monster Calls and I Kill Giants.
In this Taiwanese film, a young boy, Ah-Keat (Run Yin-Bai) is told stories by his father, Ah-Sheing. His main tale is about a tapir – a creature with the body of a pig, trunk of an elephant, ears of a horse and feet of a rhinoceros. The tapir is a benevolent creature who passes through villages at night, gobbling up all nightmares.
When Ah-Keat’s father is lost at sea and isn’t coming home, no one has the courage to tell him what happened, as his mother and grandmother seclude in their own grief. Unsure of what’s happening, Ah-Keat enlists the help of his two best friends to find the Tapir, to see if the creature can help getting his father back.
While films like A Monster Calls or I Kill Giants directly create fantasy worlds to avoid dealing with trauma; that’s not so much the case with Ah-Keat as he isn’t quite old enough to understand what’s happening, at 8 years of age. He knows something isn’t right, but he’s not completely sure. In terms of grief, that’s more with the parents who don’t let him know what’s happened. The film is as much about grief, as it is about being truthful with your children, no matter how hard it may be, and it’s a cool way to tackle that.
Hello! Tapir is still filled with loads of fantasy and wonder, and the great thing about this film is that these kids are truly likable. That’s usually a gauge for me: If I like the kids, that only enhances my enjoyment of the film. Ah-Keat is great himself, but his friends – the chubby Bean, and a friend called Peanut – are funny. When Ah-Keat first tells them about the Tapir, they’re intrigued but not sure. “Can it eat my mom?” asks Bean. “Is your mother a nightmare?” retorts Peanut.
It’s a funny moment to show that there really is zero danger with the Tapir, which looks great in this film in its CGI animation. He blends well in this world, and feels like he actually exists. The reason why the moments of adventure and moments where we see the Tapir feel so special and fantastical is because of the film’s great score by George Chen.
It’s a heartwarming film with a nice message of honesty and grief, with some great emotional moments that tug at the heartstrings. However, I didn’t find there was that big emotional scene that I was expecting to really hit this film home, but this feels more understated and grounded. It’s still such a sweet film with its fantasy and spirit, which makes it more than worth the watch once it releases.
Hello! Tapir had its Canadian Premiere as part of the Fantasia Film Festival on August 14.