It’s hard to know what to expect from a three-part drama feature on loneliness that claims to draw its inspiration from a two-part documentary on 80 of Taiwan’s independent bookstores.
Would it lean too much toward the metaphorical and end up being another pretty “artistic” film that fails to tell a solid story? Or would it try too hard with the bookstore and literature theme and go full philosophical, forgetting to connect with a general audience?
Both concerns were assuaged by the captivating, realistic storylines that are poetic yet so poignant and relatable that it almost hurts. All three stories involve books and bookstores, with literary heavyweight Lo Yi-chin (駱以軍) making his big-screen debut by anchoring the entire production, but that’s just what ties the tales together. No matter how talented a writer is, he or she must know how to tell a good story — and Dear Loneliness (至親愛的孤獨者) proves just that.
Photo courtesy of atmovies.com
Both Dear Loneliness and the bookstore documentary Poetries from the Bookstores (書店裡的影像詩) are produced by former actress May Su (蘇麗媚) through her production company, Dreamland Image (夢田文創). Dear Loneliness is the company’s third bookstore-related production — it also created the 2014 idol drama Lovestore at the Corner (巷弄裡的那家書店). The drama’s main shooting location was preserved as the now-popular Yue Yue Bookstore (閱樂書店) at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. In a world where people are reading less and bookstores are closing left and right, this is a worthy and important venture.
Lo plays a bookstore owner in Dear Loneliness, whose narration through letters he writes to his customers provide just the right amount of literary oomph by opening and closing the film — too much would be bordering on pretentious. The prose is actually encouraging, putting a positive message to the rather melancholy and despondent scenarios: “Trust me, in 10 or 20 years, you won’t feel as lonely as you are now.”
Lo seems to be giving life advice as a much older person to the three young women featured in the three stories, each helmed by a young director selected through Dreamland’s Storylab, established to support independent visual storytellers.
Lien Chien-hung’s (練建宏) Hsiao Yu (小玉) tells the tale of a 12-year-old friendless schoolgirl (Lin Tzu-en, 林慈恩) in love with her teacher; Liao Che-yi’s (廖哲毅) Kai Han (凱涵) depicts an 18-year-old college freshman (Lee Hsueh, 李雪) who arrives in Taipei alone to find that her dormitory was assigned to a Chinese student; and Yu Wei-shan’s (于瑋珊) Hsiao Hsun (小薰) features an aimless 20-year-old woman (Chang Ning, 張甯) who gets paid to visit and flirt with lonely inmates. All three directors are in their early-to-mid 30s.
Shot in different styles, the stories depict a different kind of loneliness at different stages of life, but they fit together well as it is a universal feeling that transcends age and circumstances. The bookstores play more of a background role to the stories, so much that the audience may not even notice, but at the same time the plots wouldn’t work without them. That’s skillful storytelling — not shoving the underlying theme in the audience’s faces.
The acting is also pretty noteworthy, as each scenario is loaded and pretty challenging. Twelve-year-old Lin Tzu-en probably has the toughest job as a precocious schoolgirl who dreams of seducing her teacher, but she handles the nuances of an unpopular student at the onset of puberty impressively well. Any decent actress can handle the dramatic scenes such as fights and arguments, but it’s the way that the actors subtly portray the feelings of solitude and emptiness, from each expression to the delivery of each line, that tugs on the heartstrings of the audience. Chang does this especially well, even when she laughs and smiles, one can clearly feel the despair underneath. Lee’s story is the bleakest, and she also channels her character with conviction.
It’s a shame that this film only has limited showings at select theaters. Yes, it’s pretty heavy stuff that not everyone wants to face directly; but as the film suggests, when you confront and understand your demons, you become a little bit stronger.
Dear Loneliness 至親愛的孤獨者
Directed By: Lien Chien-hung (練建宏), Liao Che-yi (廖哲毅) and Yu Wei-shan (于瑋珊)
Starring: Lin Tzu-en (林慈恩) as Hsiao Yu, Angel Lee (李雪) as Kai Han,Chang Ning (張甯) as Hsiao Hsun
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Language: Mandarin and Taiwanese with English and Chinese subtitles
Taiwan Release: In theaters
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