Saturday, February 13, 2021

Slamdance ’21: Taipei Suicide Story

Service at this hotel is excellent, but it is hard to say Michelin or Zagat would rate them. Guests never stay a second night—there or anywhere else, for that matter. It is a suicide hotel and the night receptionist is about to break a cardinal rule when he starts to form ambiguous feelings for a guest in director-screenwriter-co-editor Keff’s Taipei Suicide Story, which screens during this year’s (online) Slamdance Film Festival.

Usually, Zhi-hao ends his day after the cleaning crew has finished bagging the bodies and conducting Buddhist last rites ceremonies. However, this day one of the cleaners has some annoying news. Jun-ting has not vacated her room after five days. Zhi-hao goes to roust her, one way or another, but is surprised to himself attracted to the shy, sensitive young woman.

When he is back on duty, he makes a point of apologizing for his rudeness when he sees her again. As the conversation stretches out, Zhi-hao clearly starts to feel conflicted. Even his boss can tell—and he knows it can’t end well for the employee.

Indeed, a film called
Taipei Suicide Story (presumably a nod to Edward Yang’s Taipei Story, which was all about intimacy issues) simply can’t be a laugh-a-minute. However, it is an exquisitely humanistic film. At times, the tone feels akin to the films of Kore-eda, especially thanks to the delicate but still distinctive acoustic guitar themes performed by Yang Tzu-ting.

Tender Huang and Sung Yuhua are absolutely terrific playing Zhi-hao and Jun-ting, respectively. The chemistry they develop together is understandably awkward and halting, but it is so potent, it ultimately hurts. He initially looks like a stock character, but the honesty and subtly of Tsai Ming-shiou works as the hotel owner is also surprising and impressive.

With its forty-five-minute running time,
Taipei Suicide Story is either a long short or a short feature (Slamdance is programming it as the latter). Whichever the case, it packs an emotional punch. During every second, viewers are keenly aware about what goes on in the hotel—and are deeply concerned about the implications. It also looks great, thanks to the soft nocturnal gloss of Kao Tzu-hao’s cinematography. Very highly recommended, Taipei Suicide Story screens online through 2/25 (one $10 pass for everything), as part of this year’s Slamdance.