A fading genre that pales before testosterone-charged gangster and martial art flicks, romances are hard to find these days in Chinese-language cinema. For those with a soft spot for a genuine love story, Happy Birthday (生日快樂) is a wish come true. And to those who look down upon such films as no more than chick flicks, this film merits appreciation for its quality filmmaking.
Adapted from a novella by singer and actress Rene Liu (劉若英), who apparently is a versatile talent, the film tells of a decade-long love story between Mi (played by Liu) and Nam (played by Louis Koo, 古天樂). A piano major in college, Mi gives her heart to Nam but struggles to keep a distance from the wealthy woman magnet, who is crazy about the baffling Mi.
The two part after graduation, yet the love between them remains. Mi believes that their story will have a happy ending after she gains more self-confidence and overcomes the fear of losing the love of her life.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF APPLAUSE FILM
The dream shatters when a text message from Nam says he will soon marry another girl. Years later, Mi still receives Nam's messages sent on her birthday and trusts that their love will last till the end of time.
Directed by award-winning cinematographer and director Jingle Ma (馬楚成), the technically accomplished film is an eye-pleasing visual treat in which the pure and innocent aura of romance is accented by lyrical lighting. The editing is smooth and stylish.
An early sequence made up of intercut shots of the grown-up Mi, flashbacks of Mi's mom thumping downstairs and Nam tersely explaining the character's deeply rooted fear of losing her loved ones is a demonstration of how a narrative can be enhanced through thoughtful editing.
Part of the film's merits also go to the finely adapted screenplay (director Silvia Chang (張艾嘉) is one of the screen writers). Love and romance are manifested in seemingly trivial details of daily life, in subtle gestures and exchanges of gaze rather than words and set-piece performances. The delicate touch of the narration saves the film from excessive sentimentalism with the revelation of Nam's death.
The film benefits from its trust in its actors, who are given a rare freedom to bring their talents into full play. Award-winning actress Liu grips the heart with her superb portrait of one of the strongest female characters that have come out of Chinese-language cinema in recent years. Echoing Chang's emotionally complicated female leads in Tempting Heart (心動, 1999) and 20, 30, 40 (2004), Mi is an independent modern woman who is kind and strong but insecure and unable to open her heart to love.
Graced by fine performances, intelligent storytelling and elegant simplicity, Happy Birthday offers an enjoyable 90 minutes of escape from the all too cynical world where love has lost its simplest meaning.
Happy Birthday (生日快樂)
Directed by: Jingle Ma (馬楚成)
Starring: Rene Liu (劉若英) as Mi, Louis Koo (古天樂) as Nam, Lawrence Chow (周俊偉) as Danny
Language: In Mandarin with English subtitles
Running time: 90 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
In the space of a few decades, Taiwan has changed from a place where characterful old buildings were thoughtlessly bulldozed to make space for wider roads or bigger homes, to a society much more likely to cherish physical reminders of the past. The authorities have poured money into restoration and renovation work. According to a Nov. 10, 2020 post on Tainan City Government’s Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage Web site, in the first nine months of 2020, the Ministry of Culture’s (MOC) Bureau of Cultural Heritage approved 13 such projects in the southern city, setting a total budget of NT$281.6 million.
Writing about environmental issues can be dispiriting, but the outlook isn’t entirely bleak. Here in Taiwan, in recent decades, public attitudes to the environment have certainly changed for the better — even if citizens’ daily behavior doesn’t always reflect the priorities they express in opinion surveys. In this country as elsewhere, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) make it easier for concerned citizens to support and participate in conservation work. Nonprofits have played a key role in several successful environmental projects, including the two profiled below. SOCIETY OF WILDERNESS AND SHUANGLIANPI Protection of habitats and natural ecosystems is a core objective of Society Of Wilderness
June 27 to July 3 “The Sacred Tree (神木) is on fire!” Tseng Tian-lai (曾添來) didn’t believe it at first as it was pouring rain, but he sensed the urgency in the caller’s voice. The Alishan Forest Railway station master stepped out and saw smoke billowing from the direction of the beloved 3,000-year-old red cypress. The tree was struck by lightning in the afternoon of June 7, 1956, and a fierce blaze raged inside the eroded trunk, requiring nearly 200 people 20 hours to put it out. The authorities were especially nervous, according to a 1997 Liberty Times
The greatest worry Ma Yu-chuan (馬幼娟) has about death is not properly saying farewell to a loved one. And she should know. The practising Muslim recalls that she had a falling out with her father when she was in college. One night he tried to make amends, but she angrily rebuffed him. He died in a car accident the next day. “Why do we fear death?” is among the many questions posed in the first corridor at the Museum of World Religions (世界宗教博物館) in New Taipei City, where Ma serves as director. There is no correct answer, she says, but