Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Taiwan Film Days

2013 Taiwan Film Days was the third series in the San Francisco Film Society's Fall Season.  The series ran from November 1 to 3 at the Vogue Theater.

I ran the table at Taiwan Film Days.  I saw all 8 of the programs screened.

Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast; directed by Chen Yu-hsun; Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles; (2013)
A Time in Quchi; directed by Chang Tso-chi; Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles; (2013)
Taipei Factory; (2013)
Forever Love; directed by Aozaru Shiao & Kitamura Toyohar; Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles; (2013)
Soul starring Jimmy Wong & Joseph Chang; directed by Chung Mong-hong; Mandarin with subtitles; (2013)
Ripples of Desire; directed by Zero Chou; Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles; (2013)
Apolitical Romance starring Chang Shu-hao & Lu Huang; directed by Hsieh Chun-yi; Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles; (2013)
When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep starring Kai Ko & Chien Man-shu; directed by Hou Chi-jan; Mandarin with subtitles; (2012) - Official Facebook

Taipei Factory was short film compendium.  It consisted of four short films; each co-directed by a Taiwanese director and a foreign director.  The four films in Taipei Factory were:

Mr. Chang’s New Address; directed by Chang Jung-Chi & Alireza Khatami (Iran)
A Nice Travel; directed by Shen Ko-Shang & Luis Cifuentes (Chile)
The Pig; directed by Singing Chen & Jero Yun (South Korea)
Silent Asylum; directed by Midi Zhao & Joanna Preiss (France)


Two romantic comedies stood out for me.

When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep was scheduled to get a limited release late last year.  I recall the title but it disappeared without ever being released.

Cram schools are popular in Asian countries.  Actually,  I know they are popular in Japan and Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 40 years so I don't know if they are popular elsewhere.  Anyway, college admission is largely based on scores on standardized test.  A cottage industry has grown to teach to the test.  Apparently, there is a street in Taipei where many cram schools are located.

Tung (Kai Ko) is a nice but unambitious young man.  He's deeply in love but as we see in an inventive pre-credit opening sequence, his girlfriend dumps him and he falls into a depression.  Director Hou Chi-jan conveys this with a stop motion/jump cut sequence involving Polaroids which I thought was very clever.  He takes a job at a printers shop that caters to the cram school.  He hopes to reconnect with his lost love who has informed him via Post It note that she is enrolling in cram school.

Tung notices he photocopies a lot of quizzes where the instructor/proctor draws a sheep on the paper with dialogue bubbles encouraging the students.  Tung begins to draw a wolf on the original so that the photocopies have a running dialogue between the sheep and wolf.  The instructor is Yang (Chien Man-shu), an attractive young woman who holds a job for 100 days or something like that because of  a promise to her late mother.

Anyway, as Tung continues to pine away for his ex and Yang has commitment issues, they embark on a series of mini-adventures - looking for a lady's lost dog, encountering a noodle cart philosopher and finding out the backstory of the fried rice king.  Actually, that was another nice flourish.  The fried rice king was a cram school student who flunked out.  He shared a school locker with his girlfriend and we see the arc of their relationship from the camera viewpoint of the inside of the locker.  They both put items in the locker for the other to find and as their paths diverge, the nature of the items of change.

When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep was a very well made film.  It's also a lightweight rom-com which is fine but the main benefit of seeing it is putting director Hou Chi-jan on my radar screen.  I'm interested to see what he does next.

Apolitical Romance was anything but.  It has a very clever title because it could also have been A Political Romance.  The film's two lead characters symbolize their respective home countries.  Huang Lu is Qing Lang, a mainland tourist who encounters Ah-cheng (Bryan Chang), a slacker Taiwanese civil servant, in a Taipei street food stall.  Given the work assignment of writing a guide to cultural differences between Taiwanese and Mainlanders, Ah-cheng witnesses Qing making a disturbance when she tries to order food by weight instead of by pieces.  It gives him an idea.  He'll put Qing up at his apartment if she help him write his report.  She agrees to the arrangement with one additional proviso - he must help her find her grandmother's first love.  The two have been separated since the revolution when he fled to Taiwan. 

The rest of the film involves the couple in a love/hate relationship.  Ah-cheng finds six men with the same name and age as the man Qing is searching for.  They travel around the island searching for the man while getting to know each other better.  Qing is loud, boisterous and demanding; Ah-cheng is soft spoken, immature (he has toys all around his apartment) and easily persuaded.  Apparently these are commonly known stereotypes of Chinese women and Taiwanese men.

Along the way, they also argue about politics and needle each other about cultural differences which leaves the political message of the film always close the surface.  I don't know if the film was a political film with a rom-com backdrop or rom-com with political overtones.  Director Hsieh Chun-yi strikes a pleasing middle ground.  Like the state of relations between the two countries, there is rapprochement between the couple but their ultimate union is left unfinished which nicely sets up a sequel.

Huang Lu had a difficult assignment in making her rough-edged character likeable enough for a comedy and she did an admirable job.  Bryan Chang played Ah-cheng seemingly effortlessly.


Soul was an interesting film.  Part horror, part thriller, A-Chuan (Joseph Chang) collapses at work.  His co-workers drive him to his father's farm in a rural part of Taiwan.  A-Chuan is changed man literally. He speaks as though he is another person inhabiting his own body.  To back up the point, he kills his sister who is visiting.

Rather than turning in his son, his father (Jimmy Wong) locks him up in a storage shed on a remote part of the farm.  However, the issue won't die as his son-in-law comes looking for his wife.  The father has to kill him to keep the secret and soon thereafter a cop starts investigating.  Soul had the feel of a South Korean thriller which is meant as a compliment.  It's a solid film that might be 15 minutes too long.  My only complaint is that it has a languid pace at times which stops the film dead in its tracks and then it has to gain speed again.  There was a postscript which confused me a little.

Forever Love was a gentle comedy paying respect to the Taiwanese film industry of 1960s and 70s.  Mostly told in flashback, the film has the added benefit of some nice retro costumes.  Frankly, I don't remember it too well.

I remember thinking highly of A Time in Quchi when the film ended but six weeks later, I can't recall all the details which leads me to believe it made a good first impression but wasn't quite a strong as I remembered.  A young boy is sent to live with his grandfather one summer because his parents are getting divorced.  His grandfather lives in a small town while the boy is from the big city.  At first, he is bored but gradually he begins to appreciate the quiet life and people in his grandfather's town.  Then a tragedy strikes which deeply affects the boy.  The film plot was a little confusing at times and not that I think about it, the plot seems to have derivative of many films. 


Two short films in Taipei Factory stay in my memory.  In Mr. Chang’s New Address, a man comes home to find his house is missing.  When the police investigate, Google Maps puts the address in the sea.  It's kind of whimsical and absurd at the same time.

The Pig is set during a drought.  A long-in-the-tooth singer is getting pushed out of her job by a younger singer.  Looking to find a husband, she briefly considers the pig farmer.  He has his own problems as he and his mother cannot afford to keep the farm so they sell off their favorite pig. 


Zone Pro Site: The Moveable Feast was interminable at 145 minutes.  It was a comedy that riffed off of cooking competitions and haute cuisine.  I didn't think it was that funny but maybe it's cultural.  I do notice that I often find the humor in Chinese films lacking.

Ripples of Desire bored me silly as well.  Two sisters - one was courtesan/singer/musician, the other her assistant.  One had leprosy and then it turned out the other had it all along.  There were pirates in there somewhere.

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