Fri, Mar 11, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Movie review: Love in Vain

Alex Yang’s modern allegory has many interesting ideas about today’s money-driven society, but fails to adequately explore its subject matter

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Yen Tsao and Wen Chen-ling play a young couple in Love in Vain.

Photo courtesy of Good Day Films

Taipei’s rocketing real estate prices and growing wealth gap occupy a central place in Love in Vain (獨一無二), Alex Yang’s (楊順清) first feature film in 10 years.

The drama explores the difficulties faced by younger generations in the money-driven metropolis of Taipei. The story is actually more audience-friendly than it sounds, but the less-than-perfect execution renders the film mediocre.

The film opens with a business tycoon, played by acclaimed actor Chin Shih-chieh (金士傑), and his subordinate urinating in the pool of a luxury apartment. They rave about a big investment in China, while several young women carouse in a nearby suite. The first five minutes of the film effectively introduces the world we are about to enter, in which houses are not built for living but making a profit, and where vileness and depravity lurk beneath the glitz.

Then things get a bit messy, moving on two parallel plots. Both feature newcomer Yen Tsao (曹晏豪), who plays two characters that look alike but lead completely different lives. A-yan is an innocent country boy trying to make it in Taipei, while the cynical and manipulative Xiao Yu runs a modeling agency and thirsts for celebrity.

The fates of the two strangers intertwine, evolving into a modern allegory of corruption and moral confusion in contemporary Taiwanese society.

In 1991, Yang co-wrote Edward Yang’s (楊德昌) A Brighter Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件), and has since been known for his cinematic commentary on how Taiwan’s changing society impacts its urban residents. Like his award-winning Taipei 21 (台北二 一) in 2004, Love in Vain contains plenty of sharp observations and social criticism. A-yan’s Taipei residence, for example, is merely an empty, temporary space which is later sold as a piece of premium real estate.

Film Notes:

Love in Vain (獨一無二)

Directed by: Alex Yang (楊順清)

Starring: Yen Tsao (曹晏豪) as A-yan and Xiao Yu, Wen Chen-ling (溫貞菱) as Yan-tzu, J.C. Lei (雷婕熙) as Anne

Language: In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

Running time: 98 minutes

Taiwan release: Today

But such moments of insight are rare and often overshadowed by the prosaic, uneven narration.

The character studies remain largely superficial, and the criticism is cursory and sketchy.J.C. Lei’s (雷婕熙) performance is an example of how the inexperienced leads do not have the strength and experience to carry out the emotional and narrative weight. It is almost embarrassing to watch her overact her role as a sultry young woman, while awkwardly delivering pretentious lines.

While Tsao and Lei struggle, accomplished veterans such as Chin and Leon Dai (戴立忍) handle their supporting roles with ease and charm. There is no balance in between.

In the end, Love in Vain does not live up to its ambition. And to film buffs familiar the director’s works since his Edward Yang days, prepare to be disappointed.

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