BERLIN -- A romantic comedy match-made with a crime caper, "Au revoir Taipei" is best compared with Taiwan delicacy "Pearl Milk Tea" -- sweet, bubbly, with something tasty to chew on. Directed with panache by American-Chinese first-timer Arvin Chen, this delightful tale of fumbling love and daydreaming in the city has a sound script idea that can be transposed to any metropolis from Bangkok to Barcelona.
The influence of executive producer Wim Wenders, combined with upbeat critical response could help the film rendezvous with some art house cinemas in the West and more commercial releases in Asia.
"Au revoir" follows the trend of new Taiwan films (like "Parking" and "Cape No. 7") in weaving a circus of zany figures into a tapestry of multistranded stories. Unlike most, the characters actually connect on a narrative as well as heart-to-heart level. The story also stays focused by sticking to one small, cozy neighborhood and climaxing in a single night.
The film begins with the departure of Kai (Jack Yao)'s girlfriend Faye. He parks himself in a bookstore to learn French the stingy way, and catches the eye of shop assistant Susie (Amber Kuo). His break comes when Bao (Frankie Gao), a gangster who frequents his parents' noodle shop, offers him a ticket to Paris in exchange for "courier delivery."
The pot heats up the night before Kai leaves, when Bao's nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) tries to pull off a slick crime that drags Kai; his friend Gao, a gawky, lovesick convenience store worker; Susie; and two bungling cops into two hours of adventure and a farcical surprise resolution.
The cast is chipper and likeable across the board, conveying the naivete of small-timers dreaming big. Also lending the film charm are mouth-watering food scenes, which make fun of the Taiwanese habit of tending to their rumbling stomachs under ANY circumstance. Taipei sizzles as a 24/7 snack haven.
Apart from deadpan colloquial dialogue, Chen orchestrates physical slapstick with spot-on timing, such as three dance acts that crop up in unexpected moments, or a Woody Allen-esque escape from chair bondage. These tricks have been done before, but Chen somehow gives it a fresh touch.
The nocturnal yet jazzily lit cinematography is composed of peppy short cuts while the camera often remains stationary or slow moving before ending in a dazzling track in the bookstore with the rhythm of a dance.
Music is well considered, especially a French violin score spurring associations with "Amelie" that campily accompany images of dusty, densely built-up Taipei at crack of dawn.
The Chinese title, "A Page of Taipe,i" refers to Kai's and Susie's biblio-romance while punning on "One Night in Taipei." End credits give thanks to "Director Yang," hinting at homage to the late Edward Yang.