Café. Waiting. Love (Deng yi ge ren ka fei)
Taiwan (2014) Dir. Chiang Chin-Lin
In 2011, Giddens Ko’s film adaptation of his own bestselling novel The Girl We Chased Together In Those Years, renamed You Are The Apple Of My Eye, became Taiwan’s highest grossing film at the box office. The beginning of a trilogy about young love, this follow up finally arrived three years later.
The central protagonist is Li Siying (Vivian Sung), a first year college student who finds a curious notebook when she joins the literary club. Preoccupied by the book Siying walks in front of a bus but is saved by Ze-Yu (Marcus Chang), whom she discovers frequents the nearby coffee shop, Café. Waiting. Love. Now besotted with Ze-Yu, Siying takes a job at the café.
Working alongside stern faced lesbian A-Busi (Megan Lai), who can make any coffee requested, Siying encounters campus legend A-Tuo (Bruce Hung), known as The Pervert for going around on roller-skates, dressed in a bikini and carrying a cabbage. A-tuo takes a shine to Siying when she defends him from public taunts from his so-called friends and soon, it seems fate is bringing them together will it lead to anything?
Apple was such a huge success that expectations for this follow-up were understandably high, and opinion is divided as to whether similar of greater success was achieved. For this writer, it lies somewhere between an equally enjoyable follow-up in its own right and a lesson in the problems of overindulgence and trying too hard in appealing to different audiences.
Both Apple and Café share some of the bawdy Porky’s-esque gross out humour but without the wit, unnecessary in both cases as an amiable and enjoyable romantic comedy eventually reveals itself from beneath this morass of smut. Similarly the story throws in too many distracting elements and subplots designed purely for laughs which may raise a few giggles but add nothing significant to the plot.
One wonders if this is due to Ko not directing this film as he did with Apple, handing the reins over to his second unit director from Apple, Chiang Chin-Lin in his debut. In all fairness Chang does a good job but a 2-hour run time for a story which ran out of steam at the 90-minute mark shows he still has a lot to learn about moderation.
The guilty party in this case is the subplot involving Brother Bao (Lee Luo), a former gangster film director turned mediator for real gangsters. Bao is estranged from his wife Auntie Jindao (Pauline Lan), a cook who now runs a dry cleaning service. The relevance to the plot is that A-Tuo works part time for both and with help from Siying is trying to reunite them.
Not that this isn’t valid or that it doesn’t provide some laughs (the denouement of one of Bao’s films is a hoot) or some fighting action, but overall it could have been streamlined to fit the film or perhaps dropped altogether. That way the other subplots concerning Ze-Yu and the tragic past of the café owner (Vivian Chow) which simmers idly in the background until taking centre stage in the final act to bring everything together.
This last storyline is the most interesting in how it changes the entire complexion of the film, twisting what we know, or what we thought we knew, by adding a poignant fantasy element to the proceedings, allowing the hardcore romantics watching to use those tissues after all. While both clever and beautifully played out it seems to come unexpectedly as a result of the time wasted on the aforementioned surfeit of silliness.
Speaking of which, the rampant toilet humour of the opening first act is thankfully flushed away as the film progresses and good riddance too. The initial hook revolves around A-Tuo’s infamy around the college, concerning his odd behaviour. The truth is he isn’t a pervert needing therapy as Siying believes, rather a gullible nice guy who lost some silly dares and saw them through to the end – including staying on at college for seven years past his graduation.
The idea is this all converges towards the fateful meeting between A-Tuo and Siying but even for a dumb comedy, it’s one implausible gag too far, and certainly doesn’t present A-Tuo as a good catch for the ladies. We might be forgiving about the grilled sausage romance diviner A-Tuo has perfected (a long story) or his Iron Head Kung Fu prowess (another running gag) however and that he is clearly an earnest and diligent chap.
And therein lies the problem in deciphering what the themes are – the power of love? Fate = guaranteed romance? Letting go of the past? Infatuation either pays off or it doesn’t? This needn’t have been a flat out saccharine romance to explore any of these ideas, and the humour does make much of it more palatable but Ko and Chiang have thrown too much at the wall, and apparently kept everything that stuck.
It’s not all bad news however, with high production values and gorgeous photography this is very easy on the eye and contributes greatly to holding our attention for the duration. This also applies to newcomer Vivian Sung as Siying, whose radiance and energetic performance drives the film, revealing a potential in the drama stakes too.
Bruce Hung is in comedy mode the whole time as A-Tuo and seems comfortable as such, even wearing a bikini, while veterans Vivian Chow, Lee Luo and Pauline Lan bring the requisite clout of their experience, the latter pair having a blast and the former providing an emotional depth. Megan Lai is under utilised as the stoic coffee maker A-Busi but plays off well against the slew of Apple cast members in cameo roles as customers.
Café. Waiting. Love is 80% a good film but the remaining 20% seems to be enough to deter many from enjoying this. If you have the patience to pick the bones out of this, you might enjoy it too.