Review: ONE DAY (Chi-Jan Hou)

One Day is continuing my lucky streak of picking quality Taiwanese films (Honey PuPu, Blowfish, Starry, Starry Night and Make Up), making me wonder why so many people are still ignoring (or missing) the obvious (artistic) growth of the Taiwanese cinema industry these past couple of years. One Day is everything a good romantic film should be, with some spicy fantastical overtones thrown in for good measure.

If you've been paying attention to my reviews the name Chi-jan Hou's might ring a little bell. Chi-jan Hou was responsible for the Juliet's Choice segment in Juliets, which I must admit did raise expectations considerably. Though I still prefer his short segment in Juliets Hou definitely delivers with One Day, marking him as one of the current talents of Taiwanese cinema and hopefully one to look out for in the future.

One Day takes a while to settle in. Hou liberally switches between different time lines and jumps rather drastically between scenes, leaving his audience in the dark for the larger part of the first half hour. No need to panic though, as the film goes on all the mysteries will be cleared up. By the time the end credits roll across the screen you'll have a coherent storyline that, even though not quite realistic, is easy enough to understand. The mysterious elements Hou introduces do work in favor of the romance though, granting the film fairytale-like qualities (though with a darker rim than usual).

One Day follows the life of Singing, a young girl working on a local ferry service, earning her some extra money. On one of her trips she bumps into Tsung, a young army boy who seems to know Singing from somewhere. That same night the ferry breaks down and all the passengers on the ferry are suddenly missing, nowhere to be found. Only Tsung, Singing and a recluse Indian man remain on the ship, unaware of their remarkable fate.

Stylistically you should know what to expect by now. Visually speaking One Day is a truly beautiful film, filled to the brim with exceptional camera work and delicate, well-orchestrated shots. A perfect, well-balanced mix of Japanese minimalism and Chinese grandeur. A lovely visual tone of voice that makes romances like these all the more agreeable and keeps them from turning into sentimental monstrosities.

The same goes for the soundtrack. Sure you know what a piano-tune soundtrack sounds like by now, but as long as it's quietly doing its thing in the background, slyly setting out the boundaries for a warm, enveloping atmosphere, there's nothing inherently wrong with it. You might not even notice the soundtrack while watching One Day, but you can be sure it's working its magic in the background.

The romance of One Day is firmly positioned on the shoulders of Bryan Chang and Nikki Hsieh. The supporting cast is decent enough, but their roles are so minimal that they are hardly worth mentioning. Chang and Hsieh make for a great on-screen couple and really pull the focus of the film towards them. Not to spoil too much, but the chemistry between the both of them is essential to the film's finale. Between the both of them, Hsieh (Make Up, Honey PuPu) is clearly the biggest talent though and is practically assured of a great future in acting.

Little by little the mysteries clear up and slowly the inevitable ending reveals itself. It's a worthy finale, excellently executed and highly effective. Seasoned film fans won't be too surprised by it, but as is often the case, execution trumps originality. Even though Hou pretty much unveils all the mysterious threads of One Day, there's still a certain cloak of mystery hanging over the film when the film ends. It keeps the reigning atmosphere of the film alive while still providing a neatly tied up ending.

One Day is above all a stylish romance, with some supernatural touches thrown in for good measure. It's a beautiful film, wonderfully executed and growing more engrossing with each passing minute. The film knows little to no weak point, and if you feel lost during the first half hour just reassure yourself that everything will be made clear by the end. Probably not the best entry film for people interested in the current wave of modern Taiwanese cinema, but a great recommendation for existing fans.

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