The six films selected for the Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival could not be more different. The films span from a 1963's black and white drama Our Neighbour, to acclaimed director Ang Lee's 1994 work Eat Drink Man Woman, to the 2010 comedy Taipei Exchange. What these films collectively offer is a rich narrative detailing the country's storied past, a deeper understanding of a seemingly vastly different culture, and a greater appreciation for Taiwanese filmmaking. The Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival runs from July 1 to 3 at Vancity Theatre.
When Taipei Exchanges opens, an intimate shot of a barista crafting the perfect cappuccino set to modern piano jazz may have viewers believing that they're watching something similar to a Woody Allen film set in a coffee shop in New York. But when the camera pans out, it's actress Kwai Lun-mei's nimble hands that we see fiddling with the espresso maker.
Taipei Exchanges, or 36 Stories (as it's properly translated from Chinese into English) tells the simple tale of two sisters who open a coffee shop. Some real-life trials that come with the first year of opening any business, like attracting a customer base other than your friends, figuring out menu items, and dealing with a growing pile of bills, are seemingly glossed over and not all that believable. However, things start to get interesting when younger sister Josie (played by Lin Zaizai) schemes to attract customers by setting up a trading business within the coffee shop. This ends up drawing in many more customers, which is how the 36 stories begin to unfold.
When older sister Doris meets a customer who shares his collection of soap from all over the world, the sisters soon realize that setting up the coffee shop was not really their dream, as much as it was a conduit for something else they truly wanted.
Second-time director Hsiao Ya-chuan combines comedy, familial drama, and even some documentary to capture the youthfulness felt throughout the film. The vibrant colours captured by Hsiao's lens are as rich as in any Pedro Almodovar film, giving Taipei Exchanges a decidedly Western quality, which is perhaps an extension of modern-day Taiwan experienced by its youth.
The Dull Ice Flower
The Dull Ice Flower transports audiences to a rural setting in the 1950s. Adapted from Chung Chao-Chang's novel, the story centers on A-ming, an elementary school student who is largely misunderstood to everyone around him except for his sister and new art teacher Mr. Kuo. While A-ming is a poor student, and often abused by his teachers and father because of it, he is a talented artist. When a prominent art competition calls for a submission from the school, Mr. Kuo fights to submit A-ming's work; however, the school decides to put forth a mediocre painting by the principal's son instead.
The largely passionless film takes an emotional turn when young A-ming is diagnosed with liver disease, and perhaps the most heart-wrenching moments of the film is when A-ming's teary-eyed sister delivers a speech about her brother.
Director Li Kao-yang's grainy drama is as much of an innocent story of a misunderstood boy, as it is a greater metaphor for a young country breaking free from authoritarian regime through artistic expression.
In many ways, Monga is the ultimate revenge story. The film centers around Mosquito (Mark Chao), a teenage boy who has been bullied all his life in the Taipei district of which the film's title comes from. However, things change for Mosquito when he stands up for himself (perhaps for the first time ever) against a class bully who has stolen a massive chicken drumstick his unassuming mother packed for him for lunch. That's when Mosquito is approached by four other boys, who form the Gang of Princes and take Mosquito under their wing.
The gang wastes no time finding trouble. They routinely fuel street fights, but most of it seems harmless (brotherly almost) and albeit a tad violent, but boys will be boys, right? Their gang seems beneficial to all of them until their quaint district is threatened by a more experienced group of gangster, here for a real fight.
The fast-paced film is directed by accomplished Taiwanese director Doze Niu, and while Monga is meant to be set in the 1980s, it's not completely realistic considering its sleek, modern look and feel. However, the historical misstep is a minute detail, as this story would ring true at any time, and it certainly shines