Tuesday, December 09, 2014

100 Days: Romantic Comedy & Traditional Rituals

The natural beauty and quaint charm of the Matsu Islands make them a perfect tourist destination. The spotty cell-phone reception and lack of wi-fi could also be attractive to visitors, but it is highly inconvenient for full-time residents. A hot shot telecom exec has returned to his home island to scuttle a fiber optic development plan. While he is there, he will pencil in his mother’s funeral. However, he never bargained on the local tradition requiring his marriage a little more than three months after the ceremony. Romance and ritual threaten to stall his career in Henry Chan’s 100 Days (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Wu Bo Dan felt rejected by his mother when she re-married and packed the teen off to be educated in America. Frankly, he was fine with leaving, because he would only miss his ambiguous girlfriend Xiao Wei. Now a high-flying dealmaker, Wu is not sure how to react when his stepfather comes bearing the bad news. He also brought Wu one of his mother’s favorite chickens, confusing the corporate shark even more.

Once Wu finally arrives on fictional North Island, chicken in tow, he begrudgingly attends her funeral. Of course, he is having none of the get-married-in-100-days mandate. Fortunately, his step-brother Zhen Fong is willing to fulfill Wu’s ceremonial duties in his stead. Unfortunately, he has a five-year arranged engagement with Xiao Wei. That does not sit right with Wu, but she does not want to hear it.

100 Days is pretty much headed exactly where you think it is, but it has the good sense to lose the chicken before the second act starts in earnest. It is also a ridiculously good looking film. The island is spectacularly cinematic, sort of like the Village in The Prisoner, but with shrines dedicated to the ocean deity Mazu. The cast is also obscenely attractive, even including Xiao Wei’s shy, unlucky-in-love bridesmaid Yu Jen, played by the drop-dead gorgeous Julianne Chu. So yes, 100 Days will definitely make viewers want to visit Peikan Island’s Chinpi village, where the film was shot.

Model-turned-actress Tracy Chou plays Xiao Wei with demur intelligence, somehow managing to sell her martyr complex. Likewise, Chu’s turn as Yu Jen is touchingly sweet and wholly likable. Aboriginal actor Soda Voyu (seen in Seediq Bale) largely minimizes the shtick as the unflaggingly earnest and only slightly goofy Zhen Fong. On the other hand, poor Johnny Lu’s Wu gets quite a bit of slapstick comeuppance and never really feels like he connects with the other characters, except maybe briefly with Tsai Ming-hsui, who invests his step-father with a quiet dignity that classes up the joint.

100 Days never really tries to transcend the rom-com genre, but it observes the category conventions in moderation. Chan (whose American television credits include episodes of Scrubs and the better-than-its-reputation Kitchen Confidential) keeps things moving along at an easy mid-tempo and cinematographer makes everything sparkle in the warm sunlight. If you are looking for niceness in a film, it has a bounteous spread. Recommended as a safe date film, 100 Days opens this Friday (12/12) in the Los Angeles area, at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.