Saturday, February 5, 2011

Taipei Exchanges

Taipei exchanges written and directed by Hsiao Ya-Chuan is a film that will likely polarise audiences where ever it plays, I really liked it, I found it light and easy going, but on another day I may have found it dull and meandering, I guess it depends on your state of mind when you catch it, I saw it in a relaxed mood and found its eccentricities endearing, but on another day could just have easily found them irritating.

Guey Lun-Mei plays Doris, who has quit her pen pushing job to follow her dream of opening an elegant coffee shop, Zai-Zai Lin is her sister Josie, who is more adventurous and sassy, helps out in the cafe. At the opening of Doris' cafe, friends and family bring gifts, however the gifts are mainly junk and before Doris knows it the cafe looks more like a junk shop. The harsh realities of starting a new business soon bite as times are hard and customers are scarce. When a customer finds a Thai cookbook amidst all the junk and asks if he can buy it, Josie refuses to sell the book but offers an exchange, the customer can have the book in exchange for getting the cafes drain unblocked (a job she has been given). Josie decides this is a great way of bringing more customers through the doors by offering them the chance to trade items, services or even stories for items in the cafe. Doris doesn't like the idea, but realises that more customers are coming into the shop and goes along with it.

Guey Lun-Mei
As the story plays out, more exchanges are completed, the cafe becomes more well known for the bartering and attracts attention from the tourism industry and through stories and exchanges Doris and Josie realise what is really important to them and how to get what they want. If all this sounds superficial, it kind of is but at the same time it deals with some important themes, but deals with them in quite a superficial way, it never really feels like any real emotion is involved, but yet you do care for the characters. It is that kind of movie.

The basic framework of Taipei exchanges is very slight and because of this Hsiao Ya-Chuan uses voice over narration as well as documentary style interviews with people on the streets of Taipei to bolster the points that are being made by the film, the people being questioned works nicely but the narration can be a little intrusive as it isn't that hard to see what is going on with the characters.

Zai-Zai Lin
The big strengths of Taipei exchanges are the performances of the two sisters, Guey Lun-Mei is really good as Doris and Zai-Zai Lin is even better as Josie, it would have been easy for the sassy character she plays to have been overacted and thus become annoying but she pushes close to the line without going over, she will be a star in the future. Importantly for the film the chemistry between the two actresses is great and they make very believable siblings. The movie also has a nice comedic touch with the girls mother in particular, being the source of amusement with a running gag that I found very funny.
Taipei exchanges has a vaguely Wong Kar Wai feel to it both in how the story is put together, and in look and feel, but it is shot in a much more straightforward manner, though it still manages to look beautiful.

As I said at the beginning, how you react to this film will depend very much on your mood at the time you watch it, I could have written two pieces for this film, one positive and one negative, as I know how easily I could have reacted negatively to it had I been in a different mood. I hope you are lucky enough to catch it at the right time yourself!

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