AFFD Review: Au Revoir, Taipei

[Our thanks to Liz Reed of MangaLife.com for this review.]

Showing on July 23 at 7:00 p.m. at the Landmark Magnolia in Dallas, as part of the Asian Film Festival of Dallas.

If you could blend awkward relationships, quirky humor, and upbeat guitar-and-fiddle music with stunning shots of urban Taiwan, you'd get a taste of what Au revoir Taipei is all about. As a film without a clear-cut genre (I'd say indie-romantic-comedy with a splash of crime), you wouldn't expect it to be so intriguing and lighthearted at the same time. But first-time director Arvin Chen took risks, and they definitely paid off.

The script follows the lovesick Kai (Jack Yao), who is determined to learn French and win back the affection of his Paris-bound girlfriend. As he studies every night, he attracts the attention of a bookstore employee, Susie (Amber Kuo), who attempts to make conversation despite Kai's indifference. But when Kai borrows money from a retired gangster (Frankie Gao) and must secretly deliver a package to Paris, he finds himself being chased by a police officer and some odd characters in bright orange suits, while his lanky best friend, Gao, gets kidnapped before his eyes by a pimped-out purple Scion.

While the first twenty minutes are too slow for comfort, the remaining hour delivers laugh after laugh thanks to the eccentric orange suit gang, Gao's offbeat personality, and some well-placed, amusingly awkward interactions between Susie and Kai. The film explores love most of all--unrequited, forming, and dying--through the interwoven subplots of Kai's dramatic breakup, Susie's sweet persistence, Gao's open-mouthed admiration of his co-worker, and the police officer's flailing, half-hearted relationship.

Au revoir Taipei's buoyant soundtrack literally makes this movie--from the cool jazz sounds that follow the actions of the foolish orange suit gang to the country Western guitar-and-fiddle licks that narrate Susie and Kai's escape from the police officer, the music just makes you want to smile and indicates that the film doesn't take itself too seriously, without which would take away from its charm.

A variety of shots of the Taipei "City of Lights" landscape (hilariously paired with Gao and Kai's Vespa adventures) also add to the film's bright charisma. Jack Yao and Amber Kuo's chemistry is a surefire favorite, but the film's true gem is Paul Chiang, whose simple yet hilarious portrayal of Gao will make you wish his side of the story were featured more in the film.

Au revoir Taipei beat out 11 other films for the NETPAC/Asian Film Award in Berlin earlier this year, and will make its U.S. debut at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas on July 23. At the very least, I think you can expect to walk away from this film smiling and still laughing about the random closing sequence.

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