Taiwanese film fully capitalizes on Taitung’s scenic backdrops and its
protagonist is often seen listening to headphones. Superficially, it might look
a lot like the popular and critical hit The
Most Distant Course, but this is a radically different film. For one thing,
the young woman in question is not trying to hear a human connection in
mysteriously provided audio recordings. Rather, she is trying to blot out the
outside world after suing the popular professor who raped her in Wang Wei-ming’s
(Sex) Appeal (trailer here), which screens tomorrow during the 2015 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
though Pai Hui-hua is from Taipei, she is one of the most innocent new arrivals
at her Taitung liberal arts college. On the train, she meets cute with Wang
Mu-hung, but she is not convinced he is serious enough for her. Like many
freshmen, she is in awe of orchestra director Li Jen-fang, so she
understandably accepts his potentially problematic lunch invitations.
Unfortunately, Li soon forces himself on her in his office. Confused about her
feelings for the married professor and ill-equipped to deal with his behavior,
Pai lets the situation continue until she finally attempts suicide.
a massive conflict of interest, the campus victims’ advocate happens to be Li’s
wife, criminal law professor Lin An-ni. Instead of representing Pai, she will
essentially prosecute the damaged student when she finally presses charges.
Frankly, her attorney is also somewhat problematic. Fang An-yu is something
like a Taiwanese Gloria Allred, who has been opposing the university in a murky
land use litigation that is never coherently established. She only took the
case at the insistence of Pai’s counselor, Wang Wen-hui, a former friend with
whom she had a falling out years ago.
from Fang and Wang’s overly melodramatic spats, (Sex) is an unusually mature and challenging drama. Granted, there
is never any question Li is guilty, but it vividly demonstrates how ordinary
human weaknesses can be exploited after the fact. Pai becomes a victim several
times over, pushing away Wang Mu-hung (whom viewers become rather attached to),
because that is the sort of thing that happens in such situations.
who primarily know Amber Kuo from the Tiny
Times franchise will be floored by the power and vulnerability of her
performance as Pai. She has some tough scenes with no place to hide, but she
forces the audience to watch and feel her torment. Likewise, Vivian Hsu is
terrific as Fang, at least when she is not clawing with counselor Wang. Yet, it
is TV star Yuan Huang’s Wang Mu-hung who serves as the conscience of the film.
His sensitive portrayal makes it impossible to dismiss (Sex) as some sort of anti-male polemic. Indeed, it is about a host
of unequal power relationships, starting with teachers and students, but also
incorporating the popular versus the unpopular and the well-connected versus
the socially marginalized.
features some very big names (Kuo and Hsu)
working at the top of their games. It is hard to watch at times, but it deftly
reflects the manner in which insanity is apt to run unchecked through
university campuses. Highly recommended, (Sex)
Appeal screens tomorrow (4/28), as part of this year’s LAAPFF.
Labels: Amber Kuo, LAAPFF '15, Taiwanese Cinema, Vivian Hsu