Film review: When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep
Starring: Kai Ko Chen-tung, Chien Man-shu, Guo Shu-yao
Director: Hou Chi-jan
Category: I (Mandarin and Taiwanese)
Screenwriter-director Hou Chi-jan's bubbly crowd-pleaser of a romantic comedy dramatically begins with Ying (Nikki Hsieh Hsin-ying) suddenly disappearing from the flat she shares with her boyfriend Tung (Kai Ko Chen-tung, the star of You Are the Apple of My Eye), leaving him in a state of shock.
Clenching his girlfriend's parting note that says she's off to "cram school", Tung heads to Nanyang Street - a neighbourhood in Taipei full of such schools - hoping to locate her. Unable to find Ying after days of fruitless searching, Tung settles into a mundane work routine that involves photocopying and delivering examination papers.
Amid the stacks of paper, Tung chances upon cute cartoon drawings of sheep penned by Yang (Chien Man-shu), a teaching assistant and aspiring illustrator who is also waiting to be reunited with a lover. Tung sketches a wolf next to the sheep, triggering a sequence of flirtatious exchanges about love and dreams.
When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep recalls Arvin Chen Chun-lin's Au Revoir Taipei in its local flavour and small neighbourhood settings, but it shines brighter in how it uses elements such as dynamic camera movements, quirky framing and shallow depth of field to transform a generally unpleasant locale into an endearing shelter for wounded souls.
Rom-com cliches like slow-motion and amorous close-up shots abound - but in self-conscious proportions. Manga-style stock jokes contribute non-sequitur humour, while the energetic supporting cast plays to their strengths. Stop-motion sequences and animated devices add youthful energy and fantastical dimensions to the film, while screenshots of Yang's ever-updating Facebook fan page will resonate with digital denizens.
Typical of youth-centred, idiosyncratic Taiwanese fiction, the film's dialogues lose their subtlety when over-padded with philosophical undertones that are supposed to clue us into the characters' internal world. For instance, the locker of memorabilia that so intrigues Tung may have been used to string various subplots together, but it still appears to be an awkward afterthought.
The movie generally sports a light-hearted tone but it also possesses streaks of melancholy - with Yang's quirky obsessive-compulsive rituals explained by her mother's early death. (The same shadow of parental separation overcasts Hou's equally dreamy debut feature One Day, and is in fact a projection of his childhood experiences.)
When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep opens today