Director Lien Yi-chi (連奕琦) takes on lesbian love and death in his debut feature Make Up (命運化妝師). Boasting exquisite cinematography and solid acting from a well-chosen cast, the slickly produced movie is a competent stab at a genre that is rarely tackled in Taiwanese cinema, but a flawed script lets the project down.
Promising young actress Nikki Hsieh (謝欣穎) plays Min-hsiu, a mortuary beautician who prefers the company of the dead to that of the living. Her quiet life is disrupted when the cosmetologist discovers that her new assignment is working on the body of her former high school teacher, Chen Ting (Sonia Sui, 隋棠), who is believed to have committed suicide. Through a series of flashbacks, we quickly learn that Ming-hsiu had a lesbian romance with Chen during her teen years.
Heartbroken by his wife’s death, affluent psychiatrist Nie (Matt Wu, 吳中天) approaches Min-hsiu in the hope of discovering more about Chen’s past. Meanwhile, detective Kuo (Ray Chang, 張睿家) seeks the beautician’s help in investigating the death.
Photo Courtesy of Good Day Films
As she delves into the truth behind her ex-lover’s self-destruction, Min-hsiu gradually unearths the secrets and inner demons that haunt not only Nie and Kuo, but herself as well.
Despite the looks of a thriller, the film is more of a study on the dark side of human nature than a mystery-solving exercise.
The challenge is partially met by the well-cast actors, who carry the narrative forward without falling foul of melodramatic cliche. One example is Wu, who, after years of struggling with poorly written roles, finally plays a flesh and blood character. He shows that he is capable of delivering expressive cadences and nuanced emotions as a man tortured by love. Another pleasant surprise is model-turned-actress Sui, who illuminates her character with a gripping fragility and a sense of despair, and whose debut performance on the silver screen is marked by restraint.
As forceful and telling as the actors are, the atmospheric cinematography by Canada-educated Randy Che (車亮逸) weaves together a delicate play of light and shadow, accentuating moods and emotions with a kaleidoscope of tones and luminosities.
The film’s obvious failing lies in its underdeveloped script, which lacks adequate detail to fully develop the characters. For example, the taboo love between Chen and Min-hsiu doesn’t come across as intense enough. Similarly, more screen time is needed to explain the psychiatrist’s transformation from a loving husband to a lost soul.
After female director Cho Li’s (卓立) unsuccessful mystery thriller Zoom Hunting (獵豔) last year, Make Up is a more polished effort and one step closer to a well-narrated story that audiences can empathize with.
Directed by: Lien Yi-chi (連奕琦)
Starring: Nikki Hsieh (謝欣穎) as Min-hsiu, Sonia Sui (隋棠) as Chen Ting, Matt Wu (吳中天) as Nie Cheng-fu, Ray Chang (張睿家) as Kuo Yung-ming
Language: In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Taiwan Release: Today
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