Torn between the expectations of her ability and a strive to live life to fullest, Xie Jun-Ya exhibits an exceptional gift in her capacity to communicate with the departed. Living in a culture imbued with a respect for the dead, this ability to talk with lost loved ones makes Xie Jun-ya a hot-ticket to seek an appointment with… the only issue? You’ll have to wait until she finishes school.

Ho-Yun Chen’s short film offers a gaze at the distinctions between one generation’s troubles of the supposed cultural decline in tradition with the youth of Taiwan, but failing to realise they haven’t turned their back on custom but adopted and adapted its archaic practices. At times humorous, The Busy Young Psychic is an adept film with little issues outside of the brief run-time, limiting the potential emotional connections and failing to capitalise on all of the strong cast.

Being able to communicate with the dead makes Xie Jun-ya indispensable to her Teacher, Kim (Po-Chou Chang). Spotting a quick buck and the possibility to attract richer clients, Kim runs Xie Jun-ya into the ground with long hours before and after classes. Finally offered the chance to escape, she is drawn back into using her gifts but on her own terms, closing the funeral parlour earlier, removing the traditional robes and having less grandeur and false hope to the religious role.

Gradually, the narrative turns away from a simple tale on cultural evolutions and builds on love-story, coming-of-age and work/life relationship plot threads. Impressive given the short runtime, The Busy Young Psychic never actually feels too busy; it’s a pleasant journey where little is felt rushed. Pacing takes its time to allow respectful nods towards ceremonies, but equally sets aside time to forge a connection with principal characters, sacrificing some of the side-roles. Chiefly, it fails to focus overly on that of Xie Jun-ya’s love interest and her friend, the pair capable but never given the opportunity to build. 

Simple, the cinematography is clean for the most part, focusing on points of action or interest without much in the way of experimentation – up until the film’s closing. Throughout are small frames which have an engaging composition or angle, but Ko-Chin Chen’s final frame finds Xie Jun-ya embracing her role as a busy psychic, but also of a young woman starting to embrace life outside her responsibilities. Playing baseball on the high rooftops, fruitlessly firing shots directly into the moonlight as the washing lines flutter in the wind, it’s a striking image to leave the film on. Perfectly lit, it allows the colours to exude naturally and summarises the frustrations Xie Jun-ya experiences while paying tribute to the film’s filming locations.

There’s a quiet nature within Pei-Jen Yu’s performance as Xie Jun-ya, a young woman coming to grips with her budding romance at school and desperately seeking to balance expectations with a desire to live a high-school life. Far from a push-over, Pen-Jen Yu is thoroughly embodying the role, and when pushed concentrates intense energy in her ‘breaking point’. Fluid in movement, but with the precision of the warrior God she channels, it’s a brief moment which speaks to the underestimated nature within young women to take control of a situation and break away from older, patriarchal figures who seek to take advantage of them.

Confronting the superstitious nature which plagues an older generation, Ho-Yun Chen’s The Busy Young Psychic offers life into the culture surrounding death customs in Taiwan as it moves into the lives of younger generations.

Screening as part of Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh