Thu, Mar 07, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Shallow focus

Taiwan’s recent cinema, which is obsessed with the dreaded rom-com genre, mimics the blandest offerings Hollywood has to offer, where the true aim is not to create a unique artistic vision or announce a new cinematic voice, but generate market success

By James T. Hong  /  Contributing reporter

The most promoted Taiwanese feature of this year’s Berlinale was undoubtedly Arvin Chen’s (陳駿霖) Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (明天記得愛上我) which had its world premiere in Berlin. Chen is a veteran of the Berlinale, as his previous feature, Au Revoir Taipei (一頁台北), screened in 2010 at the festival, and his 2006 University of Southern California thesis film, Mei (美), won the Silver Bear for Best Short Film. He also directed a short in 10+10.

Featuring some of the actors from his previous narrative feature, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? also incorporates two Taiwanese rock/pop stars, Mavis Fan (范曉萱) and Mayday’s Stone (石錦航). Despite taking roles that play against type, their rock star status is not lost on their fans or the film’s backers. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is essentially a hollow commercial enterprise. When the prolific producer/actress Lieh Lee (李烈) was asked by a Taiwanese reporter at the sparsely-attended Berlin press conference who the audience was, she responded that the film was designed for women around 30 years old.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? asks the titular question by focusing on two couples. Weichong (Richie Jen 任賢齊) is a closeted homosexual married to Feng (Mavis Fan) who wants another child. Meanwhile Weichong’s sister, Mandy (夏于喬), fears an eternity of boredom with her nerd fiance, San-san, played by Stone, who comes off as mentally handicapped, rather than as a semiconductor specialist. Chen’s direction is light, at times superficially lyrical, and characters occasionally float in the air. With the exception of the title track, as sung by Fan in a drunken karaoke sequence, the music feels lifted from a Carrefour supermarket, which is itself the subject of a joke within the movie.

It is unclear if Chen intended two foreigner roles as simple jokes or metaphors of Taiwan’s cultural position in Asia. Weichong’s love interest is a hunky airline steward from Hong Kong, and Mandy retreats into the world of a South Korean soap opera, where she befriends the male star who appears on her couch as an imaginary advisor. Since South Korea is now trouncing Taiwan in all spheres of cultural influence, this Korean-speaking character is just another reminder of Taiwan’s weakening soft power in Asia.

SOMETHING FOR THE KIDS

Presented in the Generation program for children and youth, Touch of the Light (逆光飛翔), produced by Wong Kar-wai (王家衛), who is this year’s Berlinale jury head, and directed by Chang Rong-ji (張榮吉), serves as a suitably inspirational tale based on the real life story of blind pianist Huang Yu-hsiang (黃裕翔), who plays himself in the film. Here he befriends a beautiful wannabe ballerina (Sandrine Pinna, 張榕容) and together they inspire each other to pursue their crafts. It is difficult to dislike such a sickly-sweet confection, and the Berlin audience of younger teens lapped it up at the screening I attended. However, it is also difficult to respect it as a work of art. Did Yu-siang really meet and inspire a ballerina? Does this matter?

Taiwan apparently submitted Touch of the Light to the Oscars, but it wasn’t nominated. Like Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, the film feels too calculated in its commercial manipulation. The relentless handheld camera, mostly emotive close-ups, and exactly placed musical interludes serve more to alienate than inspire the serious viewer. Perhaps this is why the movie was presented to those with immature critical faculties.

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