Monday, July 12, 2010

AAIFF ’10: Taipei 24H

Founded in the early 1700’s, much of Taipei’s civic character comes from its ultra-modern architecture. An international hub of economic activity, Taipei bustles with energy. Eight Taiwanese filmmakers capture the diversity of life in the city over the course of a single day in Taipei 24H, an anthology film commissioned by Taiwanese Public Television, which screens at this year’s Asian American International Film Festival.

24H starts cute with Feng-feng Cheng’s Share the Morning. When walking to school, a group of school children spies a cat stuck up a tree. Unfortunately, the adults of the neighborhood are rather disorganized in their rescue attempts. Filmed from the perspective of the cat, it is a light and amusing kick-off to the film. It is followed by Chang-zer Niu’s Just a Little Run, a story of two school children running away from home. Though it initially brings to mind kids-on-the-street films like Children of Invention, Niu keeps it lighter. As it turns out, this episode is more about puppy love than survival.

Perhaps the most mature installment is Debbie Hsu’s Summer Heat, a film about foiled illicit love. While the would-be lovers do not acknowledge it, evidently this fateful day is St. Valentines, which plays an important role in Hsian-tse Cheng’s Save the Lover, arguably the most fully developed story of the film. A suspicious mob boss orders his young flunky to spy on his beautiful young lover, but she turns the tables on him quite emphatically. Edgy yet oddly sweet, it is one of the highlights of 24H. With the Taipei 101 Tower figuring prominently in it, Save also makes the best use of Taipei as a distinctive setting.

Of course, anthology films are uneven by their nature. Some vignettes feel a bit slight, like Chi-yuam Lee’s Smoke, but at least it serves as an effective transition from day into night. Clearly, the most experimental contribution is Ying-jung Chen’s Dream Walker. While it ultimately redeems itself, Dream’s self-consciously surreal imagery and techno soundtrack give it the vibe of a dated music video. Though somewhat sentimental, Je-yi An’s family drama Owl Service nicely conveys Taipei’s late night ambiance and showcases a very strong performance from its young lead.

Appropriately, 24H saves its deepest and most accomplished film for last—4:00 AM to be exact. Featuring renowned Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang directed, in a reversal of roles, by his cinematic alter-ego, actor Kang-sheng Lee, Remembrance is deceptively simple. Having sold her business, the proprietress of a late night coffee shop is joined by a regular customer for a final cup of java and to watch a documentary on Luo Man-fei, a Taiwanese ballerina who died of lung cancer, but whose celebrated performance of choreography shaped by the experiences of Tiananmen Square survivors still has the power to move the night owls decades later. Brief but elegant, Remembrance celebrates quiet moments of beauty and those who inspire them. It is a perfect ending to the collaborative film.

Concluding with its finest hour, 24H is well worth seeing for Remembrance alone. While there are ups and downs throughout the day, there more than enough entertaining moments throughout 24H to recommend it as a whole. It screens as part of the 2010 AAIFF this coming Sunday (7/18) at the Chelsea Clearview.