On the recommendation of a friend who had seen this earlier and gave it the thumbs up, I too decided to give this Taiwanese film the go ahead at the expense of a Hong Kong one (which is also somewhat of an ode to the city according to the synopsis) and I soon found myself enjoying this production written and directed by first-timer Arvin Chen, which in essence is a crime-caper-romantic-comedy, putting two broad genres together with remarkable ease.
The French words in the title alludes to our protagonist Kai (Jack Yao) in his pursuit of language excellence as his girlfriend has left for further studies in France. Dropping by a bookstore almost every night and treating it like a library, he soon gets the attention of the salesgirl Susie (Amber Kuo), who takes a liking toward Kai if not for his dedication and perseverance, and tries hard to strike up a conversation. The other narrative thread follows a local mafiaso Brother Bao (Frankie Kao) who is contemplating retirement, running a real estate company which serves as a front, managed by nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) and his none too bright thuggish employees, all decked out in neon orange jackets.
With plenty of interweaving narratives containing other smaller subplots such as a cop's relationship with his estranged girlfriend, and that of Kai's friend Gao who is infatuated with his convenience co-worker Peach, Au Revoir Taipei unravels itself mainly over one crazy night over Hong and his gang's pursuit of what is believed to be a package of supreme value, handed over by Bao to Kai to traffick to Paris when the latter seeks the former's help for monetary assistance to get him overseas. The title in Mandarin also serves as a pun for a snapshot / slice of Taipei, with its night markets and inevitable establishing shot of Taipei 101 (soon to become an equivalent of what the Eiffel Tower means to Paris), and phonetically it's sounding like spending a night in the city.
The way the film is edited keeps the sprawling narrative threads always under control, and conjures up an experience of a whimsical budding romance against the more realistic elements of one turned sour because of being taken for granted, and another a failure to start because of the lack of basic courage. Much of the comedy comes from the bumbling idiots of henchmen under Hong, and bring genuine laughter for their various clueless antics. The finale offers no unexpected surprises, but it's the way that it gets delivered brings forth that sheer delight by the time the final scene unravels in a dreamy sequence.
Winner of the NETPAC/Asian Film Award at Berlin last month, Au Revoir Taipei is a definite crowd pleaser which can find a ready audience if given a chance to be released in Singapore with the language kept intact.