In this quite assured feature debut, Arvin Chen explores not so much true love at first sight, but rather the site of first true love.
Dir. Arvin Chen
2010 | Taiwan | Drama/Romance/Comedy | 85 mins | 1.85:1 | Min Nan & Mandarin
PG (passed clean)
Cast: Jack Yao, Amber Kuo, Chang Hsiao-chuan
Plot: Kai, a lovesick young man, wants to leave Taipei in hopes of getting to Paris to be with his girlfriend. He spends long nights in a bookstore studying French, where Susie, a girl who works there, begins to take an interest in him.
Awards: Won Netpac Award (Berlin)
International Sales: Beta Cinema
Subject Matter: Light-Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 3 Aug 2010
Executive-produced by Wim Wenders, the great German director of Paris, Texas (1984), and Wings of Desire (1987), Au revoir Taipei is an assured-feature length debut from Arvin Chen.
Written and directed by Chen himself, the film is an ode to light-hearted, whimsical French romantic comedies, but it is ultimately rooted in the culture that is specific to the filmmaker’s own. Is Taipei the new Paris, the city of love? Not yet, but through his two lead characters, Chen suggests it could be so, and it could be now.
Kai (Jack Yao) is the film’s protagonist. He longs to be with her girlfriend, Faye, who is now in Paris. He spends many nights at a local bookstore to read a specific guidebook that would teach him French.
Susie (Amber Kuo), who works in the bookstore, finds him a lonely sight and tries to talk to him. A few exchanges of nervous glances, and the director has impressively set up a boy-girl tension between the two leads, one that strikes a delicate balance between awkwardness and syrupiness, and of which it remains pleasantly consistent throughout.
Chen adds in a farcical crime attempt that Kai finds himself embroiled in. It not only turns out to be a discreet relationship building experience for Kai and Susie, but a relevant episode in which the lives of colorful, humorous supporting characters converge, creating a narrative platform for Chen to explore the singular theme of ‘the longing for love’.
The performances are generally subdued; however, the lack of expressive or emotional dialogue is not a flaw but Chen’s way of letting his characters take on a conservative front. These are characters who are either shy, heartbroken (from a failed romance) or simply clueless.
We see their motivations but their actions and responses, which are unbeknownst to them, remain quietly humorous to the viewer. And it is this low-key humor that Chen successfully captures that brings a positive vibe to Au revoir Taipei.
The camerawork is clean and simple because the story is clean and simple. Chen could have employed gimmicky techniques like split-screen or quick cuts to show off his talents, but they are not necessary, and I applaud him for that.
Au revoir Taipei trades a conventional and overly saccharine romantic fable for something that balances commercial appeal with arthouse influences. Accompanied by a breezy though occasionally melancholic score, Chen’s film will be easily embraced by anyone who demands something different from their usual diet of Western romantic comedies.
This is not true love at first sight, but rather the site of first true love.