Thu, Mar 14, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Film Review: Breast and House

A strong premise about breast cancer, drag queens and Taipei’s brutal housing market can’t help this run-of-the-mill rom-com filled with lowbrow humor

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Joe Hsieh and Chantel Liu play the lead characters in Breast and House.

Photo courtesy of

The premise behind Breast and House (乳.房) is brimming with potential: a woman who undergoes a mastectomy meets a man who moonlights as a drag queen. While he wears fake breasts to earn money to buy a house, she uses her breast cancer insurance money to buy one. It’s a clever wordplay on the formal Mandarin term for breast: rufang (乳房) — where the fang (房) on its own means house — hence the title.

The subject is timely and relevant, using a rather absurd situation to show how far young people have to go to purchase their own place in Taipei’s brutal real estate market. This could have been a hilarious yet edgy and sexy social critique on so many topics that are relevant and important to Taiwanese society.

Unfortunately, however, director Hsieh Chih-wen (謝志文) produces a sappy, unimaginative love story with cringe-worthy dialogue and annoying bathroom humor.

Yes, this is probably what the mainstream likes, but judging from the mostly empty theater, it really wouldn’t have hurt to take some more risks. Actually, if one looks at Breast and House as just a run-of-the-mill rom-com, it’s pretty well-produced with inspired acting, decent pacing, well-timed suspense and few plot holes. But given the loaded backstory, it becomes a missed opportunity.

The film is indicative of what’s wrong with Taiwan’s movie industry: while there are gems here and there, the productions are often experimentally artistic with little entertainment value, or overly conventional and risk-averse in trying to please everyone.

Anyhow, the opening scene is promising. Without revealing what happened, protagonist Chia-ai (Chantel Liu, 劉香慈) is seen tearfully shaving off her long tresses. It’s a bold move for a Taiwanese movie star, who does a great job despite the lines she had to work with — and this is a do-or-die scene that can only be shot once. We then see A-wei (Joe Hsieh, 謝毅宏) preparing to show a house to his clients when a bra falls out of his briefcase. This first half of the film is quite decent, exploring modern relationships as both Chia-ai and A-wei bicker with their respective other halves about commitment and money.

Film Notes:

Breast and House (乳 . 房)

Directed by: Hsieh Chih-wen (謝志文)

Starring: Chantel Liu (劉香慈), Joe Hsieh (謝毅宏)

Language: Mandarin and Taiwanese with Chinese and English subtitles

Running time: 103 minutes

Taiwan release: In theaters

It’s very relevant, and anyone who has lived and dated in Taiwan can relate. Through the drag queen device, gender and sexuality is explored, providing a look behind the scenes and bringing up an important point in gender fluidity: not all drag queens are gay.

Yet these themes that drive the movie slowly fade to the background as the romance settles in. There are hints of this in the first half, including a ridiculous sudden downpour-at-the-saddest-moment scene that makes one wonder if the director was being serious or making fun of a cliched movie device. The former is probably true as suddenly a thought-provoking yet rather crass comedy turns into a grandiose melodrama that would make the South Korean entertainment industry proud — complete with the love interest who is secretly battling a potentially fatal illness. It’s all downhill from there.

A final gripe is that, ostensibly for rating purposes, we never see what exactly happens to Chia-ai’s breasts in the film. The whole part about the mastectomy, in fact, is understated, as the doctor in the beginning is vague about Chia-ai’s condition, saying that she might or might not have to have them completely removed.

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