Monday, October 19, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] Snowfall in Taipei (台北飄雪) (World Premiere)

Hiding Sadness

"What's the point of disappearing if nobody looks for you?"

That's one of the points to reflect throughout the film, and it made some sense to, because if you're not missed by anyone, then your disappearance just doesn't matter because your presence just lacks any form of value. Snowfall in Taipei crafts its tale around this poignant plot point, and the title in itself creates another, where the situation is meteorologically near impossible, representing that impossible hope that one clings on to just because dreams can be created, and not always fulfilled.

Based on a Japanese story by Chikayo Tashiro and helmed for the screen by Chinese director Huo Jianqi, the film opens with Tong Yao / Tanya's character May, a singer and runner-up of New TV Idol, mysteriously going missing from Taipei, and ends up in the small town of Ching T'ung (or Jing Tong in Hanyu Pinyin). Or at least that's what the press had reported, with gossip tabloids having a field day speculating about her relationship with her music producer Ray (Yang Yuning) that might have led to her disappearance in a huff.

So we have a big star escaping to a small town, and given small town sentiments, it's only a matter of time before gossip, curiosity and the natural showing off by those who have come across her, that would lead to her discovery, especially when Morning Mo's reporter character Jack is hot on her trail, wanting an interview to find out the real reason to her seemingly wilful act in causing distress to her fans, which is both based on personal decisions, and professional fears.

As a romantic film, Snowfall in Taipei scores in having a beautiful looking, youthful cast to bounce off some exuberance into the story. Supporting members like Janel Tsui as Ray's assistant Lisa, and Teresa Chi's cafe owner aren't pushovers in the looks department as well, though their characters aren't exactly multi-dimensional, with the latter often providing for some light-heartedness given her chirpy demeanour, compared to how sombre the film would slowly develop into.

Chen Bo-lin actually looked extremely comfortable in his role as Seamus, the town's know-it-all errant boy and go-to person should anyone need any assistance. With his ready contacts built up through his years of wandering the streets, no thanks to a mom who had chosen to abandon him entirely. Here is a man destined to be alone, though try as he might to woo a big city girl who's more pragmatic and a realist, being in love with Ray's talent, and someone who can provide a real career boost compared to another who just, well, takes very good care of her and nurses her back to health. You'll naturally feel sorry for him as his sincerity doesn't mean squat.

Tong Yao / Tanya is quite the dead-ringer to Gong Li / Zhang Ziyi, and the narrative cheekily made references to this comparison. If she indeed came from the same physical mold, then this film had provided glimpses of what this budding actress would be capable of in time to come. Her character May spends the first half of the film silent (having lost her voice), and has to depend on plenty of facial expressions to bring her desires across. Her role here is classic Ms. Confused too, on one hand growing to like the attention bestowed upon her, and in fact, in my opinion, sends out quite a number of signals, only for her temporal holiday to become something of the same with the relationships forged in the town.

Lensed beautifully by Sun Ming, I am quite certain that this film will be to the town of Ching T'ung what Cape No. 7 is to Hengchun. If that humble abode that the lead in the latter film could turn into a tourist spot, then I don't see why the equivalent in what the character May had lived in, couldn't be something of an attraction itself. Not to forget too that the quaint little town has picturesque landscapes, man-made environments like the suspension bridge and that mean railway track cutting directly into the town itself.

There are plenty of ballads in the film, the most obvious is Meng Tingwei's signature tune. Segments with music were shot like a music video which might not gel that well with the rest of the narrative. Overall, Huo Jianqi has delivered a tale of romance with a believable cast, and if I may add, a worthy successor to Taiwan's Cape No. 7 in its inevitable destiny to follow up on the former's success, and to translate that to tourism dollars as well. Highly recommended.

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