PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 January, 2009, 12:00am

Starring: Chang Chen, Kwai Lun-mei, Jack Kao, Peggy Tseng

Director: Chung Mong-hong

Category: IIB

Solid cinematography, crisp editing, an empathetic turn from Chang Chen as a confused thirtysomething, and a subtle teasing out of the many plotlines: the opening 15 minutes of Parking boasts all the hallmarks of a sturdy first feature by director Chong Mong-hong.

Unfortunately, things gradually unravel thereafter. Occasional lapses into visual gimmickry, overwrought melodrama, some stilted dialogue and a contrived ending undermine what could have been a refreshingly innovative cinematic debut.

As the film begins, we see a troubled Chen Mo (Chang) spending the night in his car. He then navigates his way home to have dinner with his wife Mei (Kwai Lun-mei, above with Chang), who asks him to bring home a cake from a shop downtown; with dessert in hand, he returns to his car only to find his way blocked by a double-parked vehicle. Desperate to return home - his four-year marriage is on the rocks, details of which are relayed through flashback later - he ventures to a nearby building to search for the culprit. It's there that he finds himself sitting down to dinner with a young girl and her grandparents; the blind grandmother has mistaken him as her son, who was actually executed several years before for a botched kidnapping of a young child.

Parking shows promise until then. Perhaps harking back to his documentary making days, Chong is audacious enough to play it straight through this segment, forgoing music altogether and employing quick edits to heighten the anxiety biting at Chen and also the grieving family he's sharing a table with.

Chong shows great heart in addressing social problems: there are elderly scavengers prowling the streets for food, and in the subplot involving Li Wei (Peggy Tseng), a young mainlander coaxed into prostitution, money is used to buy a person's dignity. Such moments, however, are cancelled out in the latter parts of Parking, with the tone increasingly uneven as Chong resorts to the visual tricks with which he excelled while making television commercials. The hackneyed dialogue also wears thin, culminating in an exchange between Chen and Mei (above) which is more cringeworthy than heartwarming.

With a strong cast - Jack Kao's turn as a taciturn one-armed barber is a delight - and a mix of human drama and deft comic touches, Parking could have been Chong's triumphant debut. Instead, the melodrama and the all-too-tidy closure diminish his efforts.

Parking opens today