As athletes from around the world prepare for the Deaflympics, scheduled to open in Taipei on Sept. 5, a group of pop idols and film professionals have assembled a feature film to coincide with the event. Helmed by up-and-coming director Cheng Fen-fen (鄭芬芬), Hear Me (聽說) tells an enjoyable boy-meets-girl story, but adds a twist to the classic tale by introducing hearing-impaired characters and making extensive use of sign language.
The film opens with a swim team training for the upcoming Deaflympics. Hearing-impaired Hsiao Peng (Michelle Chen, 陳妍希) is one of the team’s best swimmers. Her younger sister Yang Yang (Ivy Chen, 陳意涵) drops by the pool every day to support her, all the while working odd jobs so that Hsiao Peng can concentrate on her training.
Also a pool regular, Tian Kuo (Eddie Peng, 彭于晏), a happy young man, delivers lunchboxes to the athletes and is soon attracted to the equally cheerful Yang Yang. The pair communicate through sign language and develop deep feelings for one another.
Things take a turn for the worse, however, when, after a late night date with Kuo, Yang Yang comes home to discover that Hsiao Peng has been hospitalized for smoke inhalation caused by a fire next door. Blaming herself for the accident, Yang Yang decides to stop seeing Kuo.
Despite Yang Yang’s resistance, the lovelorn Kuo does not give up on their budding romance. While his patience and determination eventually win the girl’s heart, Hear Me’s ending is anything but predictable.
As demonstrated in her feature film debut, 2007’s Keeping Watch (沉睡的青春), award-winning scriptwriter and director Cheng possesses the skill to tell a story gracefully, a talent young Taiwanese filmmakers often lack. Though many audience members may not be familiar with sign language, the main form of communication between the two protagonists, Hear Me’s carefully scripted narrative, comic relief and genuine emotional resonance quickly render this language barrier unimportant.
The film also earns extra points for its well-cast group of actors. Though Peng risks being typecast as a happy-go-lucky, good-natured guy, he stands out with his lovable antics and impressive comedic timing. Theater veteran Luo Bei-an (羅北安) and Golden Horse-winning actress Lin Mei-hsiu (林美秀) make adorable sidekicks as Kuo’s parents.
Supported by Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (台北市文化局) and the Taipei Organizing Committee of the 21st Summer Deaflympics, Hear Me is less a movie about sportsmanship and the world of the hearing-impaired than a lighthearted romance featuring young pop idols. The promotional motivations behind the movie become all too obvious at certain points, a prime example being the director’s portrayal of Taipei as a city filled with extreme cyclists, skateboarders, street musicians and flamenco and hip-hop dancers, all of whom congregate in the outdoor squares of the upscale Xinyi District.
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