Snowfall in Taipei

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 12:00am


Starring: Chen Bo-lin, Tong Yao, Tony Yang You-ning, Morning Mo Tsz-yi
Director: Huo Jianqi
Category: I (Mandarin)

Snowfall in Taipei projects a fish-out-of-water scenario. However, this has nothing to do with the film's urbanite-in-the-sticks plot. Rather, it's about how a mainland filmmaker once famed for atmospheric, humanist dramas tries, and fails, to give weight to what is essentially a fluffy Taiwanese romance aimed at teens.

Huo Jianqi is best known for Postmen in the Mountains, his simple and subtle 1999 film that sees a young postman gaining a deeper understanding of his retiree father - whose job he has taken - as the pair trek around a steep landscape in Hunan province.

Admittedly, Huo has dabbled in more conventional and lighter fare since. He helmed A Time to Love that was released around Valentine's Day in 2005 - but has steadfastly stuck to nuanced narratives with solid characters.

This isn't the case with his first venture outside the mainland though, perhaps because of the limitations of having to work with lightweight source material from others.

Snowfall in Taipei is an adaptation of a Japanese novel but is bereft of protagonists that can elicit empathy from viewers. Mirroring the premise of the Taiwanese hit movie Cape No 7, Snowfall begins with a young female sophisticate arriving at a rural outpost outside Taipei to nurse her broken heart; but May (Tong Yao), a Qingdao-born and now Taipei-based pop singer, is never really that psychologically conflicted a character.

Cast against such a wafer-thin personality, the other half of the leading romantic equation is Seamus (Chen Bo-lin, above with Tong), a kind, young man whose cheery demeanour brings the community together (he's the Mr Fixit in town) while he struggles to comprehend why his mother left him when he was a boy.

He's perhaps the most fully formed of all the film's characters. But his quirks and affections aren't given sustained attention as the story darts beyond the leading couple to the other players in the story, such as May's producer Ray (Yang You-ning) and the pursuing journalist Jack (Morning Mo Tsz-yi) - all of whom only serve to spread the story too thin, and their representations of modern show business are too naive.

The life truisms that are spouted on screen will probably play well with younger and less discriminating audiences - a group that would be receptive to the pop-culture references on offer here and tightly-edited music-video montages that account for the characters' past anguish in love.

Rather than springing surprises, as the meteorologically impossible scenario the film's title suggests, Huo's movie is very much a case of deja vu.

Snowfall in Taipei opens on May 3