Cape No.7 (海角七號)

Cape No.7 (海角七號)

This must be the best Taiwanese movie I have watched to date. It managed to strike a perfect balance between crass commercial films and overtly self-indulgence art-house craps. First time movie director, Wei Te-Sheng (魏德聖) has got the formula right.

On one extreme, Taiwanese films tend to follow the likes of famous Taiwanese film auteur like Tsai Ming-Liang (蔡明亮), Lee Ang (李安) and Hou Hsiao-Hsien ( 侯孝贤) – typified by extremely painful to watch slow shots, wide angles, mimimal dialogues and “WTF” storylines.

On the other extreme, there’s Chu Yen-Ping (朱延平), who seems to pride himself in making the most crassy commercial exploitation films, stooping to a new low for every of his new movies.

In this background, Cape No.7 (海角七號) comes as a refreshing change. The film has attracted unexpected widespread popularity in Taiwan and has become the highest grossing film produced on the island. To date, it has brought in over NT$215 million in accumulated box-office in Taipei and is now the 3rd top-selling film in Taiwan history. The film has also been nominated 9 times for the 2008 Golden Horse Award and is registered to compete in the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Pretty amazing isn’t it?

Here’s a brief synopsis via Wikipedia:

In the 1940s when Taiwan was a Japanese colony, a Japanese teacher (Kousuke Atari) dispatched to the southernmost town of Hengchun fell in love with a local girl with the Japanese name Kojima Tomoko (Rachel Liang). After the Surrender of Japan, he was forced to return to his home country. On his trip home, he penned seven love letters to express his regret for leaving Kojima Tomoko, who originally planned to elope with him to Japan.

More than 60 years after the teacher left Kojima Tomoko, Aga (Van Fan) is introduced as a struggling young Hengchun-native rock band singer who could not find success in Taipei. After returning to his hometown, Aga’s step father (Ju-Lung Ma), the Town Council Representative, arranged a position for him as a postman, replacing the senile Uncle Mao (Johnny C.J. Lin), on leave after a motorcycle accident broke his leg. One day Aga comes across an undeliverable piece of mail: the daughter of the now deceased Japanese teacher has decided to mail the unsent love letters to Taiwan after discovering them. Aga unlawfully opens the package to discover its contents, but the old Japanese-style address Cape No. 7, Hengchun County, Takao Prefecture could no longer be found.

Meantime a local resort hotel inside Kenting National Park is organizing a beach concert featuring Japanese pop singer Kousuke Atari, but Aga’s step father makes use of his official position to insist that the opening band be composed of locals. Tomoko (Chie Tanaka), a Mandarin-speaking Japanese fashion model dispatched to Hengchun, is assigned the difficult task of managing this hastily assembled band, led by Aga along with six other locals of rather particular backgrounds. After a frustrating trial period Aga and Tomoko unexpectedly begin a relationship. With some assistance from hotel maid Mingchu (Shino Lin), Tomoko helps Aga find Kojima Tomoko, the rightful recipient of the seven love letters. Aga then returns to the beach resort and performs a highly successful concert with this local band and Kousuke Atari.

I may not be a Taiwanese and cannot claim to be entirely familiar with Taiwanese cultures; but what really touches me about the movie is the honesty exuded by the film’s portrayal of a small laid back beach town in Hengchun. I also like the juxtaposition between the pair of Taiwanese-Japanese relationships, which help the film to transcend language and geographical barriers, increasing it’s appeal for an international audience. Add to that, the beautiful musical soundtrack and catchy pop tunes, the film wins a 9 out of 10 rating from me. The only minus point was the abrupt falling in love between the two main protaganist which I did not find too convincing.

With a worldwide economic recession, cinema-goers need a strong, motivational film, beyond the usual Hollywood offering of big guns and big boobs  to make everyone feel good about ourselves and give us the strength to carry on. Cape  No.7 happens to fill this gap perfectly. It also helps that it involves romance on a cruise ship like another juggernaut blockbuster we are all familiar with. 🙂

BTW, the film’s official SIngapore release date is on 27 November 2008 (I managed to catch it last Friday via a media invite). Do catch it if you have the time.

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