Au Revoir, Taipei
Taiwan l 2010 l 85min
Director Arvin Chen
Starring Amber Kuo, Jack Yao
'Au Revoir, Taipei' quickly jumped to the top of my favorite films at PIFF list this year with its disarmingly sweet romantic comedy elements, coupled with a hilariously absurd gangster plot. Brimming with a colorful cast of engaging characters and the droll dialogue to match, the film fluently translates every bit of its entertaining narrative into a tight 85 minute running time (I'd welcome even more from a film this good).
Picking up some of its beats from French New Wave cinema, 'Au Revoir, Taipei' uses comedy as an extension of character, a naturalistic approach to humor that never feels forced or abrasive. Some of these character moments are extremely funny, and they are earned because we know that is how these characters would react in the given situation. Director Arvin Chen constructs his own "love letter" to Taipei with the dreamy, nighttime glow provided by his cinematography. We are treated to a backstreet tour of a specific neighborhood that is lined with restaurants, food shacks, convenience stores, and love hotels.
While weaving his characters in and out of the madcap situations that befall them, Chen at once does away with the notion of Paris being the only "city of love" while proving that love can be found in the most unlikely of circumstances. His two lead characters are extremely likable. The lovesick Kai has seen his girlfriend take off to Paris without him, and he is left to ponder his options while sponging off of the local bookstore by reading French language books in the aisles. He is spotted by the incomparably adorable Susie, one of the bookstore employees who looks for every opportunity to stop her cart and talk to Kai. Their exchanges are subtle and Kai displays a unique brand of naivety, oblivious to the fact that Susie is smitten by him.
Later Kai and Susie are reunited outside of the bookstore, but their attempts at establishing a friendship are cut short by the consequences that ensue as a result of the package in Kai’s pocket. For you see, Kai has found himself in desperate need of money in order to follow his girlfriend to Paris, and his “Uncle Bao” is only too happy to oblige…given that Kai is willing to do him a “favor”. Uncle Bao is the kind of gangster you love to love, a tired old man who just wants to live out the rest of his days in peace and quiet. Still, he wants to see Kai succeed in his attempt to get to Paris, but he also wants to see Kai earn his charity.
When Uncle Bao’s nephew, head of a gang of young orange-suited real estate showmen, takes it upon himself to make his own “big score”, Kai and Susie get caught in the cross hairs thanks to Uncle Bao’s package. Kai and Susie are pursued by the orange-suit gang, and Kai’s unassuming and laconically challenged friend Gao (complete with his Family Mart employee uniform) is apprehended and hauled off as leverage. Some of the most entertaining and funny moments of the film come from the exchanges between Gao the hostage, and his bumbling, orange-suited captors.
Au Revoir, Taipei is a shinning example of the kind of movie one wants to find themselves in during PIFF. It’s pitch-perfect in all the right places, hitting all the right notes, and creating an endearing cast of characters that stick with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s subtle in its homages to the French New Wave, invoking the pliable allure of the Lindy Hop, using quiet little dance numbers and tender little moments to create the ideal romance surrounded by an insanely funny fish-out-of-water chase. Usually I can tell about a film ten minutes into the opening, and with Au Revoir, Taipei, I found myself grinning like a goofball from the very first frame. It takes American romantic comedies to school, it’s an eclectic twist on the tired gangster genre, it’s everything you want when you go to the cinema. It’s not only the best film I’ve seen at PIFF, but one of the best films of the year.