|Love Go Go
Reviewed at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival by Shelly Kraicer
There's a new movement in Taiwanese cinema, an urban, hip, post-modern "third wave", and one of its leaders is director Chen Yu-hsun. His second feature, Love Go Go (Ai qing lai le) was one of the unexpected delights of the 1998 Toronto Film Festival. Following the serious historicism of first-wavers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang, and second wave's poets of urban anomie, like Tsai Ming-liang and Lin Cheng-sheng, the newest movement in Taiwan cinema may be lighter -- more sizzle, less substance -- but its anarchic rule- and genre-breaking style and its film technique savvy are never less than great fun to watch.
Love Go Go spins several fables of love and heartache involving some unusual residents of contemporary Taipei: a lovelorn baker Ah Sheng (Chen Ching-shin), another lovelorn typist Lily (Liao Hui-jen), a mysteriously beautiful hairdresser Li Hua (Tang Na), and a security gadget salesman Ah Sung (Shih Eli) who muses on the loneliness and anonymity of modern life.
The film focuses on each one in turn. Ah Sheng seems childlike, shy, a little overweight, and physically awkward. But when Li Hua, his childhood sweetheart, visits his bakery every day, his life takes a romantic turn. He expresses himself best through food and song: he starts baking special pastries with messages to her: "I'm sorry" cakes, "Love you forever" tarts. She fails to recognize him. Eventually, he writes her a letter, spilling out his heart: she had vanished when they were children, but remained with him as an "invisible friend", who served to give him courage and comfort during a lonely sad childhood. His ultimate romantic gesture is to offer to appear on a TV song competition, singing out his love for her.
Lily's story starts when she finds a pager on the ground. It turns out that the owner is suicidal: her phone chats with him restore his will to live (she reminds him of the lovely things in her world that make life worth living: "nice food, good TV, cute elephants"). But she's rather hefty, and when they agree to meet, she embarks on a futile crash diet programme. In vain: he's a creep, and rejects her when he sees her.
The final story sends Ah Sung the salesman to Li Hua's beauty salon, where he inadvertently intervenes to protect her from the enraged wife of her boyfriend. She returns home to watch Ah Sheng on TV, and experiences an epiphany, of sorts.
Chen Yu-hsun handles all this potentially silly business with a light, inventive touch, that finds the sweetness inside the ridiculous exteriors of his characters. His background, directing TV sitcoms, shows in his willingness constantly to entertain his audience. But Chen has moved far beyond the limitations of TV: his first feature, Tropical Fish (Re dai yu, 1995) managed to win a clutch of awards in festivals and at home. In Love Go Go, he deploys an impressive bag of cinematic tricks with brio. Rapid montage scenes, flights of flashback- or dreamlike-fancy interrupt the characters' daily lives. A bold, school-room palette of primary colours (dominated by a hilarious celebration of the colour yellow) paints each scene. Fisheye lenses, time-lapse photography, playful montage, and frequent use of sometimes distorted, sometimes lyrical ultra-closeups are just some of the tricks he uses to keep the surface stimulation hopping.
Love Go Go's signature trick is to set us up to laugh at its apparently ridiculous characters who seem trapped in comic-book situations. But it keeps pulling the rug out from under these set-ups: we start rooting for Ah Sheng's pathetic attempts to sing, after we hear him pour his heart out in his touching letter to Li Hua. Lily and Ah Sheng's Chinese opera performance on the roof, complete with electric guitar, plastic hat, and accessorized with towels, starts ludicrous and goofy, then blossoms into a graceful little euphoria when we notice how elegantly Lily deploys her tubby body.
But Chen Yu-hsun's most dazzling play comes at the end, when he reverses his trick: this time it's tears, undercut by laughter. Li Hua's grief at being dumped by her boyfriend is interrupted by subversive mirth (a sort of montage without cuts played out on a character's face) as she tries to continue weeping while watching Ah Sheng's televised karaoke tribute to her.
Love Go Go boasts wonderful work from the principal cast (who, apart from Tang Na as Li Hua, are first-time actors), ensuring that the film stays on course, without slipping into either excessive cuteness (like many recent similarly conceived Japanese films) or intellectualized parody. A warmly welcome breath of fresh air for Taiwan's continually creative film scene.
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all content © 1996-2002 Shelly Kraicer