The San Francisco Film Society hosted Taiwan Film Days from October 12 to 14 at the Viz.
Of the seven films screened, I watched six. The exception was A Brighter Summer Day by Edward Yang which I passed on since I saw it at the YBCA in September 2010.
Din Tao: Leader of the Parade; directed by Fung Kai; Mandarin & Taiwanese with subtitles; (2012)
Days We Stared at the Sun; directed by Cheng Yu-chieh; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
Ye Zai; directed by Tseng Ying-ting; Mandarin, Taiwanese & Thai with subtitles; (2012)
Jump! Ashin; directed by Lin Yu-hsien; Mandarin & Taiwanese with subtitles; (2011)
Blowfish; directed by Lee Chi-yuarn; Mandarin with subtitles; (2011)
Joyful Reunion with Kenneth Tsang; director by Tsao Jui-yuan; (2011)
The lineup at Taiwan Film Days ultimately proved disappointing. Joyful Reunion was a sequel to Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee. The festival guide made no mention of this (at least not in the English language portion). Somewhere between 1994 and 2012, Chef Chu (Kenneth Tsang) lost one of his three daughters...it must have happened when he relocated from Taipei to mainland China. Lacking the passion for food and love which I recall from the earlier final, Joyful Reunion was anything but. Any film living in the shadow of Eat Drink Man Woman would have been hard pressed to carve out its own identity but Joyful Reunion was lacking on its own merits. I doubt the film would have been made except for its link to EDMW which are tenuous at best - different actors and different director.
Slightly better was Din Tao: Leader of the Parade, a box office smash in Taiwan. Din tao is a traditional Taiwanese dance involving dance teams dancing & beating rhythmically on large drums. My unfamiliarity with din tao was probably the film's saving grace since I was very familiar with the plot. Prodigal son returns home to disapproving father whose business (leader of a din tao troupe) is faltering. Using his newfangled and non-traditional ideas, the son leads the troupe to success while a) reconciling with his father, b) beating out a rival and c) getting the girl.
Despite being based on the director's brother's life, Jump! Ashin also seemed formulaic. Ashin is a gymnast with one leg slightly longer than the other. That doesn't really play into the plot but it was an interesting detail. Anyway, as he gets older, Ashin gets involved in gang life with his best friend. His buddy gets hooked on smack which leads to all kinds of problems. The two of them have to leave town and go into hiding. Eventually, Ashin wants to compete again so he returns to his hometown to compete in an international gymnastics competition which is held in a small school gymnasium. Oh, I forgot about the wheelchair-bound woman who works at the answering service Ashin uses. The two of them fall in love over the phone conversation they have when he retrieves his messages.
Blowfish also had a plot which strained belief but kept dialogue to a minimum which allowed the audience to fill in the details for themselves. A woman discovers her boyfriend/husband is cheating on her. She decides to sell his prized blowfish via some Craigslist type bulletin board. She takes a bus to some small town (she presumably lives in Taipei) to deliver the fish. The buyer is a shaggy haired guy. With few words exchanged between them, she accompanies him home; ostensibly to inspect the aquarium. Once at his house, they have sex (again with little verbal interaction). Afterwards, instead of going home, the woman sets up camp by moving in with the man. Again, this is not discussed. She just stays home while he goes to work each day as a baseball coach at the middle school in town. It's clear a woman lives or has lived at this house due to her clothing in the bedroom. The blind neighbor hears the woman and assumes it is the man's wife. From the blind woman, we discover his wife has left him for a truck driver and that has sent him on his downward spiral. Cut to the chase - the woman returns and after some wordless drama, the man eventually chooses her over his wife.
Again, the plot is predictable but the lack of spoken word gives the film a slightly unique twist. I can't recommend Blowfish but at the same time, I'll say I was less disappointed by Blowfish then the first three films I mentioned above.
I kind of liked Ye Zai although it was not quite as gritty as advertised. Covering similar territory to last year's Pinoy Sunday, Ye Zai ventures into the immigrant community in Taiwan. This must be a significant issue in Taiwan because if the film is indicative, Taiwan has a bounty system for illegal immigrants. Ye Zai, the title character, is one of these bounty hunters which means he essentially makes his living by making the lives of the miserable more miserable. His estranged brother has hired a Thai caregiver for their elderly father. She has disappeared and his sister-in-law wants Ye Zai to track her down. I can't remember why but Ye Zai has a three day deadline to catch her.
Ye Zai runs into some shady characters as he tracks the Thai woman down. Then when he catches her, he shows uncharacteristic sympathy towards her. This is where procrastination has cost me. I cannot recall the ending. I remember both get detained by the police and I think she was deported but I cannot recall any scenes after them in the police station. I guess that is a tepid recommendation for the film. None of the performances stood out in my memory either.
That leaves the interestingly titled Days We Stared at the Sun which is based on a Taiwanese television miniseries. Actually, the film is not based on the series, it is edited compilation of the series. So they took 10 hours worth of material and boiled it down to two hours.
Unrepentantly melodramatic and with plot twists galore, DWSATS is set in the world of teenagers and gangsters. DWSATS follows two high school classmates - one is juvenile delinquent who robbed a bank on a whim and the other is more strait-laced but is under pressure from his father's gambling or load sharking debts.
The story delves into subplots too numerous to recount but ends in tense gun battle. I wouldn't call the film profound but it was extremely entertaining.
5 hours ago