Ryan Findley
MFF’10 Preview

Au Revoir Taipei

By - Sep 24th, 2010 04:00 am

What happens when crime meets romance meets comedy? This movie. The premise is simple: lovelorn and life-lost Kai dreams of escaping Taipei and meeting his girlfriend in Paris. Then she dumps him. Desperate to get to her, Kai goes to the local gangster and asks him to pay his way to Paris. Brother Bao agrees if Kai will deliver a package for him. Brother Bao’s jealous, bumbling, excitement-seeking nephew decides this is his chance to make a big score.

The nephew tries to intercept the package, ends up kidnapping Kai’s best friend, and Kai and the girl that works in a bookstore (where Kai taught himself French) caper about Taipei trying to figure out what’s going on and rescue kidnapped Gao.

The plot contains no twists, although the subplots are enjoyable to watch unfold: Brother Bao is in love with a woman half his age, recently-drafted Gao is in terror of telling his co-worker that he likes her before he is shipped off to the Army, and the police officer chasing all of them is dealing with his girlfriend leaving him.

Photo Courtesy of Atom Cinema

But what is lacking in plot-driven shock value isn’t even noticeable as you watch the film, because Au Revoir Taipei is driven by another, equally simple fact: it’s sweet, heartfelt cinema. No sarcasm, no irony, nothing overblown, just genuine sweetness.

Kai is infatuated with his absent girlfriend and  lost in his life as an adult in the city he grew up in. The bookstore girl is smitten with Kai, watching him night after night as he reads from a French dictionary with a pronunciation guide. The wannabe gangster that wants to move up in his uncle’s world is tough yet lovable —  at one point (with completely believable sincerity, a credit to the actor) he even apologizes to Kai after smacking him in the head. The crew he’s assembled (that take Kai’s friend Gao hostage) end up playing mahjongg with him while eating dumplings, and giving him advice on how to best attract the girl he’s in love with.

Even the gangster, the big Brother Bao, seems a kind and gentle soul, asking only one small favor in return for getting Kai to Paris.

There are several scenes that are gems of understated cinematography. In particular, there are three scenes (scattered throughout the movie) involving a Chinese interpretation of the Lindy Hop that are beautifully filmed. The incongruity of these quintessential American dance moves is captured, and at the same time, so is the sense of a simpler time that we associate such outdated dances with.

This is the world these characters inhabit, the world of the Lindy Hop and kidnappers that have toy guns, where doing anything for love is completely rational. They live in a world wherein gathering around a table and eating with someone actually means something quite profound, that real connections have been made. Au Revoir Taipei is not a crime caper, and it is not a romantic comedy, but something far more earnest than either of those two genres have produced.

Au Revoir Taipei will be showing  on Saturday, September 25 at 9:30 pm at the Oriental and Sunday, October 2 at 7:00 pm at North Shore Cinemas.

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