Taiwan (2012) Dir. Doze Niu
Between Beijing and Taipei, this portmanteau film looks at a disparate group of people whose search for love slowly finds their lives intertwining. Materialistic socialite Zoe Fang (Shu Qi) begins to tire of her relationship with the older Lu (Doze Niu) and finds herself seeking solace in the simple and innocent life of stammering car washer/hotel porter Kuan (Ethan Juan). Meanwhile Kuan’s sister Yijia (Ivy Chen) falls pregnant to wannabe filmmaker Kai (Eddie Pang) who just happens to be the boyfriend of her best friend and Lu’s daughter Ni (Amber Kuo). Elsewhere struggling estate agent single Manchurian mum Xiao-Ye Jin (Zhao Wei) breaks her foot while showing fellow rich boy Manchurian Mark (Mark Chao) – a friend and business acquaintance of Lu’s – but his snobby attitude towards Jin doesn’t make for a particular successful icebreaker until Jin’s young son Doudou running away brings them together.
Released unsurprisingly in time for Valentines Day in Taiwan Love has been hailed as an Asian version of Brit rom com Love Actually, only without the cheese, lame attempts at humour and consistent urge to vomit. It’s a fairly predictable affair as one might expect and while not drowning in the requite schmaltz and false sentimentality which usually accompanies these films there is the odd tug at the heartstrings present and a teary happy ending awaiting the viewer.
Amidst the rocky journeys to the wonderland called love there is some cheeky humour to be found, the most notable being Jin’s attempts to seduce Mark with a sexy dance while sporting a huge cast on her right foot! This particular branch of the story tree is one which stretches credibility a little as Mark and Jin are forced to pretend that Mark is Doudou’s long absent father by a police officer to appease the crying youngster, otherwise this is a fairly enjoyable little arc. In the case of Kuan, he is an earnest lad who works two jobs as well as helping out at his family’s small restaurant and his first meeting with Zoe is not a pleasant at one. The next meeting follows Zoe walking out of a party having caught Lu flirting with another woman. Kuan sees them arguing and thinks Zoe is being kidnapped so he jumps in and whisks her away, thus starting an platonic but life changing relationship for both parties as Zoe begins to tire of being kept woman and wants to get a job for once after admiring Kuan’s honest work ethic. The most effective tale is the awkward love triangle between Ni, Kai and Yijia. Kai is in love with Ni but she never reciprocates his affection hence his fling with Yijia who does love him. While Kai tries to persuade Ni that he loves her (by jumping into a sceptic tank!) Yijia is organisation an abortion which Kai doesn’t want which angers Ni even more.
A palpable feeling about this film is how any of the three story arcs would have made a sufficient basis for a full length film of their own. The scope to explore the progress of each of the relationships and the emotions experienced is wide open and while they are conveyed to the best of their time restrictions here, the full length treatment would benefit each story. Writer/director/star Doze Niu manages to get the most out of the various threads inside the 128 minute running time and makes sure equal time is allotted and a satisfactory conclusion is delivered for all. The humour, romance, drama ratio is never lopsided and each element is sleekly brought in to raise or lower the mood when necessary. To illustrate this, the single tracking shot opening sequence is one the slickest and smoothly edited scenes you’ll ever likely to see and set the tone and sows the seeds beautifully for the rest of the film.
The reunited team of Mainland star (Vicky) Zhao Wei and Taiwanese favourite Shu Qi (known internationally for The Transporter) – last seen together in 2002’s action flick So Close, lead the ensemble cast although they never appear together on screen here. Shu Qi’s essaying of the flirty, party loving, self loathing glamourpuss is a tad too similar to some of her recent roles (A Beautiful Life and the two If You Are The One films) which suggests some type casting for this talented and underrated actress. Zhao Wei, who has been involved in historical action flicks recently, crashes back down to earth in a role which flatters her homely charms and showcases her acting ability too. Thankfully they don’t have to carry the load alone as the rest of the cast all offer solid support, with Ivy Chen and Amber Kuo making the youngsters proud.
It’s light, fluffy and everything you’d expect this to be but Love delivers a charming and enjoyable rom com romp that hooks the viewer from the start and keeps them captivated until the end. Soppy but endearing.