Swedish single mom Kicki recently decided to bring her 16-year-old son Viktor to Taiwan on vacation. However, she didn’t tell him that they came here mainly to meet Mr Chang, a Taiwanese man she had been dating online for some time. While Kicki was determined to find the man she fell in love with in cyberspace, Viktor wandered around the streets of Taipei and met 18-year-old Didi, whose friendship eventually led Viktor and his mother on a journey that was beyond their imagination.
The inspiration for a melodrama such as this would have to be ficticious for some people. But for director Hakon Liu (劉漢威), the film Miss Kicki (霓虹心) was actually his own life experience as he grew up dealing with two different cultures.
“My father is Chinese and my mother is Norwegian,” he said. “And doing this kind of culturally half-and-half movie in Taiwan actually feels whole, a full-circle, because I am of two cultures.”
Liu first made his name known in the film community with dozens of short films. One of them, Lucky Blue (幸運藍), won the award for best short film at the 2007 Gothenburg Film Festival.
The creation of Miss Kicki, Liu’s first feature-length project, was not only inspired by cultural differences. It was also inspired by Liu’s memories of his childhood and teenage years.
Liu spent a large portion of his life in Taiwan before leaving for Norway when he was 17. He said the Taiwan he remembered was mostly rural scenes in Pingtung. His family lived beside a bell-fruit orchard with a Taiwan Sugar Corp (台糖) railroad nearby. Close to the railway were some abandoned houses where Liu and his friends would go to take pictures and write graffiti on the walls.
“Taipei in my childhood was a very exotic and expensive place,” he said. “The AsiaWorld Department Store (環亞百貨) was like the most exclusive and luxurious place in town. I thought if I wanted to meet stars like Aaron Kwok (郭富城), I needed to go there.”
He also remembered kids in school pointing at him and calling him a foreigner. Whenever that happened, he would always fire back by calling them Taiwanren (Taiwanese) in Mandarin.
“I think many directors and artists will do what I do, that somehow you can’t avoid childhood,” Liu said. “When I close my eyes and I smell things from my childhood, I get a sense of things, even though I am writing things for a Swedish woman.”
“I would not portray a character without having certain parts of myself in him or her,” he said, adding that they included things that had actually happened and those he made up.
Liu also spent one year studying at an American School in Taichung, where there was a small Norwegian school on the same campus. Liu said memories of living in the school dormitory could be the subject of another film.
“It [the school] was an isolated place with a lot of foreigners and a bunch of rich Taiwanese kids,” he said. “That was when I started falling in love and doing stuff like running out in the middle of the night, stealing motorcycles and giving them back later.”
Working in Sweden now, Liu still returns to Taiwan a couple of times a year to visit his family in Pingtung, where he also hangs out with friends, watches the rice fields wave in the wind, listens to the sound of scooters and enjoys the quietness of the countryside.
Liu is aware of the changes in Taiwan, but he said he was more intrigued by the contrast of old and new, such as the one between Taipei 101 and the shabby hotels in the Wanhua District in Taipei.