Taiwan, 2010, colour, 1.85:1, 106 mins.
Directors: Hou Jiran 侯季然 (I), Shen Keshang 沈可尚 (II), Chen Yuxun 陈玉勋 (III).
Consistently engaging collection of three offbeat Romeo & Juliet riffs.
Taiwan. I: Juliet’s Choice 该死的茱丽叶. Taibei, the 1970s. Shy, crippled Xiuzhu (Xu Ruoxuan), who has never had a boyfriend, works in the small printing shop of her father (Luo Siqi). When a handsome left-wing student, Luo Wei (Wang Bojie), tries to have his group’s manifesto The Shining Path 日光大道 printed and is rejected by her father, she secretly makes copies for him. Then, one night, Luo Wei turns up at the printing shop, on the run from the police. II: Two Juliets 两个茱丽叶. Beigan island, Taiwan, the present day. Mei (Li Qianna), daughter of an injured taxi driver (Ke Yizheng), contemplates suicide after a painful break-up with her boyfriend. Instead, she helps out her father by driving his cab, and picks up a middle-aged man, Luo (Wang Rongyu), who’s on his way to visit a woman called Zhu Li in a mental asylum. Unable finally to face her, Luo breaks down and tells Mei his story. Thirty years ago, he (Huang He) fell for Zhu Li (Li Qianna), a song-and-dance girl in a travelling troupe, but the two were unable to declare their relationship because their fathers (Lin Zhiru, Wu Pengfeng) were enemies. Luo had the idea of Zhu Li feigning madness and entering an asylum, from which he would pick her up later. III: One More Juliet 还有一个茱丽叶. Taiwan, the present day. On the eve of his 40th birthday, tubby Zhu Liye (Kang Kang), distraught after his 28th unrequited love affair, tries to hang himself on a mountain top but is asked to move on by a film crew shooting a commercial for male slimming underwear. When the director (Sun Liming) rejects an extra, Zhu Liye is asked to take his place. He gets to know one of the other extras, Luo Mi’ou (Liang Hequn), who also has a tale of unrequited love from his days as a schoolboy.
Kickstarted by a US$300,000 award that director Li An 李安 [Ang Lee] passed on to his younger film-maker brother Li Gang 李岗 [Khan Lee], Juliets 茱丽叶 is a consistently engaging trio of vignettes with a good mix of moods, from drama to goofy comedy. The whole package – which riffs a little forcedly on Romeo & Juliet-like themes and is more just a collection of quirky love tales – was designed to platform new film-making talent in Taiwan; in fact, two directors (Hou Jiran 侯季然, Chen Yuxun 陈玉勋) have already made feature films.
The “newcomer” of the trio, documentary-maker Shen Keshang 沈可尚, contributes the boldest, and at 42 minutes the longest, of the group: Two Juliets 两个茱丽叶, a 1980s romance between a puppeteer’s son and a song-and-dance girl set on Taiwan-owned Beigan island, just off the coast of China. Told as a flashback from the present day by the now middle-aged man to a young female taxi-driver, it’s somewhat unbelievable in its central premise – boy convinces girl to enter a mental asylum to escape her family, so they can later elope – but ends with a neat twist that underlines the trio’s common theme of “moving on”, as well as casting the same actress, Li Qianna 李千娜, in three roles – as the 1980s girl, her modern self, and the young taxi-driver (who herself is getting over a painful break-up). Smoothly directed, the segment brings its various strands satisfyingly together and Li, 26, who’s never acted before, is a real discovery. For fans of 1980s Taiwan cinema, there’s a small role by director-actor Ke Yizheng 柯一正 (Last Train to Tanshui 我们的天空, 1986) as her father.
Chen, who made two interesting movies during the 1990s (Tropical Fish 热带鱼, 1995; Love Go Go 爱情来了, 1997) but then disappeared into commercials, spoofs his own career in the 30-minute One More Juliet 还有一个茱丽叶, a silly but likeable comedy centred on a tubby loser-in-love (played by TV comedian Kang Kang 康康) that provides an upbeat finale to the package.
But the most rounded segment of all is the first, the 30-minute Juliet’s Choice 该死的茱丽叶, by Hou, director of the fascinating documentary Taiwan Black Movies 台湾黑电影 (2005) and the uneven time-bending romance One Day 有一天 (2009). Hou plays a little with time here, notably in the clever final twist, but the half-hour segment is most notable for its perfect short-story form, evoking a latter-day universe of emotions in a succinct way. Convincingly set during the heavily censored, KMT-controlled 1970s, the love story between a crippled young woman and a radical student is sketched in economic strokes, with a terrific lead performance by singer-actress Xu Ruoxuan 徐若瑄 [Vivian Hsu] (The Accidental Spy 特务迷城, 2001; The Shoe Fairy 人鱼朵朵, 2005) – playing much younger than her 36 years – that avoids both caricature and melodrama. Precision-lit photography by Feng Xinhua 冯信华 (One Day) is a further plus.
Produced by Khan Entertainment (TW) (I-III), Cheer Films (TW) (III).
Script: Hou Jiran, Yang Yuanling (I); Shen Keshang, Lu Xinzhi (II); Chen Yuxun (III). Photography: Feng Xinhua (I); Jian Youtao (II); Chen Jianli (III). Editing: Gu Xiaoyun (I-III); Wei Haozhi (III). Editing advice: Liao Qingsong (II). Music: Han Chengye (I); Zhu Yuexin (II); Hou Zhijian (III). Production design: Cai Peiling (I); Tang Jiahong (II); Chen Mingzhu (III). Sound: Zheng Xuzhi (I-III). Visual effects: Zeng Dingyuan.
Cast: I: Xu Ruoxuan [Vivian Hsu] (Xiuzhu), Wang Bojie (Luo Wei), Li Lv (Lvyin), Luo Siqi (Xiuzhu’s father), Huang Caiyi (Xiuzhu’s stepmother), Xu Yaqi (Xiuzhu’s elder sister), Zheng Zhizhong (Xiaozhang), Zheng Shengyao (Shitou), Ye Mingkuang (school official); II (Present story): Li Qianna (Mei), Wang Rongyu (old Luo), Ke Yizheng (Mei’s father), Lin Bei’an (old Wang Xiuqin), Wu Lingling (old nurse), Chen Yuzhen (young nurse); II (Past story): Li Qianna (Zhu Li/Julie), Huang He (young Luo), Wu Pengfeng (Julie’s father), Lin Zhiru (Luo’s father), Zhang Zhehao, Zhang Ning (secret lovers), Wang Aiyi (night-shift nurse), Zhu Dengzhu (song-and-dance MC), Chen Yi, Lv Jiahong (song-and-dance girls); III: Kang Kang (Zhu Liye/Juliet), Liang Hequn (Luo Mi’ou/Romeo/Ron), Bai Yun (Qin), Ma Guobi (Chen), Yazi [Zeng Qionghui] (actress in commercial), Lin Huixun (Xiaolin, production manager), Zhang Xicheng (Cai, lunch-box man), Sun Liming (Bill Liu, commercial director), Xu Shizheng (Xiaokai), Wu Guichun, He Weipeng (policemen), Xu Xiangjun (Dong), Nie Bangyan (Liao), Liao Bencheng (Zhang).
Premiere: Tokyo Film Festival (Taiwanese Cinema Renaissance), 24 Oct 2010.
Release: Taiwan, 3 Dec 2010.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 31 Aug 2011.)