was known as Hollywood Taiwan and it sure was fun while it lasted. From the mid
1950’s to early 1970’s Taipei’s Beitou District was home to a scrappy Taiwanese
Hokkien dialect film industry, until the big Mandarin change-over was mandated
from above. The Beitou Roger Cormans
cooked up about a thousand films give or take, but only two hundred have been properly
preserved for posterity. The golden age
of Hollywood Taiwan is fondly remembered in Aozaru Shiao & Kitamura
Toyoharu’s nostalgic screwball rom-com Forever
screens during this year’s edition of the San Francisco Film Society’s Taiwan Film Days.
Chi-sheng was once the busiest screenwriter in Hollywood Taiwan, because
scripts needed to be turned out fast. Volume was more important than nuance. Hardly
anyone remembers his films anymore, but his granddaughter Hsiao-jin used to
have her own private screenings at his now shuttered revival house. She has come to visit him in the hospital
where he is recuperating from an athletic misadventure. In the mood to reminisce, Liu reveals to her how
he came to marry her now Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother, Chiang Mei-yeuh.
all started with a characteristically goofy James Bond rip-off called Spy No. 7. When it opens to packed houses in Taipei, Liu’s
boss, “Mr. Pig” orders him to write the sequel, Spy No. 7 on Monster Island, once again featuring the lovely but
cold Chin Yueh-feng and the arrogant heel, Wan Pao-lung, Hollywood Taiwan’s
superstars of the moment. Like so many
young women of her age, Chiang has a massive crush on Wan. Despite a bad case of stage fright, she has a
few advantages over her competition at the poverty row studio’s open casting
call. She has genuine charisma and the right
surname. Liu also takes an interest in
her career, even though they start out on awkward terms, as is always the case
will be a great romance, culminating in a big tear-jerking finale, because
anything else would not be true to Hollywood Taiwan. Along the way, there are plenty of double
takes, miscommunications, and flat out pratfalls in Forever, but the film has a romantic soul. Indeed, Shiao and
Kitamura (who also appears as Liu’s hard partying art director crony) make no
secret of their affection the old Taiwanese cinema, reveling in its gleeful
energy and love for love.
gloriously silly black-and-white sequences and kiss-me-you-fool fireworks, Forever Love proudly empties its kit-bag
for the sake of audience satisfaction. It is a rather endearing antidote for
cineaste cynicism, steadfastly avoiding irony in favor of unrepentant romanticism. Granted, characters rattle all over the film
like pinballs, but there are surprisingly touching low key moments too, such as
those exploring young Liu’s relationship to the studio’s boozy veteran director
and old Liu’s scenes with his granddaughter, a well cast Li Yi-jie, who looks
and sounds like the spitting image of her grandmother Chiang in the 1960’s.
Shao-hua brings Herculean dignity to the grumpy old Liu, enlivening the
contemporary framing scenes. Blue Lan is
a bit bland as his younger analog, but former pin-up model Amber An is sweetly
innocent yet undeniably Betty Boop-ish as the younger Chiang. As Wan, Edison Wang hams it up like a champ,
while Tien Hsin brings a bit of subtly to Chin, the ice queen.
Coincidentally but fittingly, Forever screens as part of Taiwan Film Days just as the former San
Francisco International Film Fest selection Golden Slumbers opens in New York at the Anthology Film Archives. Davy Chou’s documentary is a moving elegy to
a lost cultural legacy: the Cambodian cinema almost completely destroyed by
Khmer Rouge. While Forever Love is far more upbeat and sparkly (thanks to Patrick Chou’s
bold, candy-colored cinematography), it still wistfully honors the spirit and
enterprise of Hollywood Taiwan.
Recommended for those who love old school movie romances and the
wonderfully idiosyncratic craftsmen who made them, Forever Love screens Saturday night (11/2) at the Vogue Theatre
during the SFFS’s Taiwan Film Days.
Labels: SFFS, Taiwan Film Days '13, Taiwanese Cinema