Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei just opened up the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (after having been the closing film for the SFIAAFF). It's part of what I think is a fascinating trend of Asian American directors traveling overseas to Asia to make films. This is a theme I touched on in an essay for the 2008 ACV fest catalog which was also mirrored in my interview with Wayne Wang from the same catalog. Also, my colleagues over at Asia Pacific Arts have a fantastic conversation on the very same topic, pegged to Arvin's film.
I have to admit; this film had gotten such rave reviews from its SFIAAFF appearance that I went in with slightly inflated expectations and I didn't think its execution quite lived up. In terms of what I liked: ambitious script that was, overall, well-executed. As a friend stated it well - there's a lot going on in the film between its romantic elements and the crime caper that's mixed in yet Chen makes it all seem kind of effortlessly integrated. That's not for nothing, especially given how hacked together other film fest flicks can feel. Chen has a particular aesthetic mode that I thought was well-conveyed here, especially as someone who has spent time in Taipei and could appreciate the unique kind of urban spaces and lighting that accompanies Taipei after dark. I liked the two main leads as well but the supporting cast are really where the movie gels best so props for the acting and casting.
My two disappointments: 1) The caper plot was being set-up very early in the film and unfolded in predictable fashion. There was almost no narrative tension because you already knew what was going to happen before it happened. That's not to say there wasn't genuine enjoyment in watching it unfold but that's more about the strengths of the script and acting than the actual storytelling. 2) This isn't unique to this film at all but the two leads are imbalanced. On the one hand, you have a female lead who is completely endearing to the audience and you can easily understand why he-would-be-into-her. The other way? Makes no sense at all. The male lead is awkward, indecisive, not terribly social (at first at least) and basically lacks her liveliness and decisiveness. In what universe would she be interested in a guy like that? (Probably the same universe that says Diane Keaton would ever be into Woody Allen or Catherine Keener in Steve Carrell). I kept thinking, "this makes no sense; she could do a lot better" and that's not a good reaction to have when watching a romantic comedy. I don't think it was a shortcoming in the acting; it was just a poorly conceived character who needed to be given more to do than just mope and mutter. (He can make good noodles so I guess that's a plus).
This all said though, I was really pleasantly surprised by the film and my only hope is that this wave of Asian Am directors creating all this interesting and well-executed films overseas will be able to find a way to translate that success back in the States because frankly, the overall quality of Asian American film (shot in America) continues to suffer through the current doldrums of the indie film industry. The kind of creativity and execution now being seen abroad would be most welcome back home too.
 Disclosure: As a reminder, I should note that I was on the LAAPFF screening committee this year.