Monday, November 28, 2011

2011 Taiwan Film Days

In October, the San Francisco Film Society continued their fall season with Taiwan Film Days. The three day festival consisted of eight films. I was able to watch four of them.

Formosa Mambo; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
Pinoy Sunday; directed by Ho Wi-ding; Tagalog and Mandarin with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Ranger; Mandarin with subtitles; (2010)
You Are the Apple of My Eye; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011) - Official Website

All films screened at the Viz which is now officially referred to as SF Film Society/New People Cinema.

By the way, even though SF Film Society exhibits at New People, there are apparently opportunities for New People too independently show films at the venue. The SFFS calendar shows December 17 to be empty. However, the New People website shows a triple bill on that date consisting of Eatrip, a documentary on AKB48 and Gantz II: Perfect Answer.


Unlike the Hong Kong series, the quartet of Taiwanese films I were uniformly stronger entries.

My favorite film was You Are the Apple of My Eye, a quirky coming-of-age comedy set among classmates in high school and follows them for the next decade. Featuring a few Porky like momemnts including a masturbation contest in a classroom during instruction and character with a perpetual erection whose nickname is "Boner," Apple the spirit of youthful energy including the arrogance, innoncence, naïveté and highs & lows of first love.

Capturing just the right amount of oddness to feel plausible, Apple follows the love/hate relationship between the mischievous and underachieving Ko-Teng (Ko Chen-Tung) and the studious but popular Shen Chia-Yi (Michelle Chen). The evolution of their relationship would be ordinary enough if not for the pecularities of Ko-Teng and their classmates. Besides the aforementioned masturbation contest, Ko-Teng likes to walk around naked at home and there is the frequent minor dramas of any high school. Ko-teng's male cohorts are highly attracted to Shen Chia-Yi to the quiet exasperation of her best friend. The scenes set in high school were my favorite.

In the second half of the film, the classmates go their own way as they are accepted to different universities. Ko-teng & Shen Chia-Yi maintain a long-distance relationship until she discovers his passion for Fight Club style bouts. They have a contrived argument which was the low point of the film. After that point, I thought they would reconcile at some point in the future. The entire film is told in flashback as the opening scene is of an adult Ko-teng dressing for a wedding. The audience (me) assumed it was Ko-teng's wedding. I won't completely give away the ending but I was pleased by it.

The performances by the two leads were outstanding. The script was strong and based on director Giddens Ko's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed You Are the Apple of My Eye.


I also enjoyed Pinoy Sunday, a comedy about Filipino immigrant workers in Taiwan. Bayani Agbayani and Jeffrey Quizon play Dado and Manuel, a pair of Filipinos who live in their employer's dormitory for foreign workers. Dado is the mature one - married with kids at home, he needs the job because the pay is better. He dutifully sends a portion of his paycheck home and regularly sends gift boxes to his daughter. He's not so dutiful that he doesn't have a relationship with a Filipina maid but of the two, Dado is the even-keeled one. Manuel yearns for a Filipina karaoke queen who is little more than a bar girl. Although she shows no interest, Manuel is too much of a romantic and optimist to let her disinterest discourage him.

After their romantic prospect diminish, the two use their day off from work (Sunday) to wander the city which I assume was Taipei. They spot a wealthy, nouveau riche, Taiwanese couple having an argument in front of their fashionable flat which they are moving into. The couple abandons the moving crew who in turn respond by abandoning a couch. The couch is a red, leather, low back number which looks like it came out of French whorehouse. My taste in furniture is not as sophisticated as Manuel's as he think it would look perfect on the roof of the dorm. Unfortunately, they are all the way across town without a motor vehicle. If they want the couch in their dorm, they are going to have to carry across Taipei.

The best part of the film is this journey as the two pinoys seem to encounter every small-minded and bigoted Chinese person in Taipei. Although focused on the two men, the films pivots to become more representative of the immigrant labor experiences of Filipinos in Taiwan. We become aware of the obstacles and indignities faced by Dado & Manuel and their Quest for the Holy Couch becomes an allegory for the spirit of perserverance longed for by "guest workers" everywhere.

The film firmly remains in comedic territory until the end when it takes a flight of fancy. Rather than being preachy, the film shows the pettiness of the foreigners and natives with good-natured sense of humor. Pinoy Sunday is an outstanding comedy about an issue that I had never even considered. At the risk of trading in stereotypes, I have heard Filipinos called the Mexicans of the Orient so it's not surprising this film easily be transplanted to the US with Dado & Manuel replaced by a pair of Mexicans.


Formosa Mambo is one of those films (which the Chinese seems to make in abundance) where a series of coincidences, interdependencies and contrivances occur to bring various story lines together. I didn't enjoy Formosa Mambo as much as You Are the Apple of My Eye and Pinoy Sunday...and it has been six weeks. If I recall correctly, there was a trio of kidnappers who hold a bespectacled boy for ransom. Sadly (and humorously), the ransom demand is misidentified by the boy's mother as a telephone phishing scam. Later, when she realizes her son is missing, she gets a real phishing call which she assumes to be the kidnappers. The paths of the two criminal gangs crisscross and the fraudsters recruit a new member who conscience bothers him.

Formosa Mambo is a dark comedy which detours into tragedy on occasion. Formosa Mambo was an ok film but as you can read, not very memorable.


Ranger was my least favorite film about a gangster who gets out of prison after 20 years or so. Upon release, he immediately,if not reluctantly, falls in with his old gang buddy who is now a mob boss. Wu Pong-fong gives a quiet performance as man who has spent his entire adult life in prison but retains some compassion (or perhaps he rediscovered it in prison). His performance won him the Best Actor Award at the Taipei Film Festival. At the other end of the specturm, Huang Jian-wei goes all out to portray a frightening brute of a man, the mob boss whose child unwittingly becomes the catalyst for violence. Ranger had a plot twist that I thought was unnecessary. In fact, I suspected it before it was revealed based on the child's wailing. Otherwise, Ranger was a solid drama.

No comments: