A cyclical structure of self-destruction, self-preservation, and reincarnation runs rampant throughout the Taiwanese film “A Place of One’s Own,” but there is no discernable moral, or lesson to be learnt by the movie’s conclusion, just a desire to re-examine the trajectories of our own lives. A remarkably funny and at times uplifting black comedy which still refuses to sugar coat the dark and depressing aspects of its cynical realm, director Yi-An (Ian) Lou has managed to craft a charming and moving work that resonates simultaneously with the absurd and the realistic, while drawing attention to such current issues as the Taiwanese popular music industry and the plight of indigenous Taiwanese peoples.
Shown at the Taiwanese Film Festival (TWFF) here at the Vancouver International Film Centre, from July 2nd-4th, A Place of One’s Own was one of the most popular Taiwanese films of the year among critics and viewers alike when it was originally released in 2009, garnering the Best New Taiwanese Generation Film award at the 2009 Hong Kong Film Festival and the Most Popular Film Award at the 2009 Taipei Film Festival. And, nearly a year later at the TWFF, the film was still well received by the local Vancouver audience, many of whom applauded the show by the movie’s end.
The fact that both Lou and actor Tzu-Yi “Morning” Mo, who plays the washed up rocker “Mozi”, are both real life Taiwanese musicians and active members of the local indie rock scene certainly enhances the film’s uncanny portrayal of a celebrity’s downward spiral and subsequent “resurrection”. Indeed, the manner with which Mozi is spectacularly resurrected from obscurity to fame by a bandwagon-jumping fanbase evokes shades of Michael Jackson, and his overnight success is tinged with the same irony and cynicism that at times defined the circus surrounding Jackson’s death.
But Mozi’s rise and fall (and subsequent rise) is not the only captivating performance in the film. Mozi’s girlfriend, the promising singer “Kasey” played by Chia-Hsin Lu, manages to steal the show with a magnetic display of strength and resoluteness in the face of the stubborn despair exhibited by her enigmatic, yet troubled, boyfriend. Many films that depict such self-pitying anti-heroes like Mozi tend to encourage the audience to sympathize with their plights, but Kasey as a character foil prevents the viewer from being blinded to Mozi’s faults and misgivings. Instead, the lovely Chia-Hsin Lu imbues her character with a sense of deeply conflicted ambivalence towards her own burgeoning musical success, in comparison to Mozi and his wallowing in glorified washed-up rocker status. Lu, who won the Best Supporting Actress award at the 2009 Taipei Film Festival for her portrayal of Kasey, certainly proved that she could hold her own in the film, able to nail the “up-and-coming musician” persona with all the appropriate eagerness and uncertainty.
In addition to the woes of Mozi and Kasey, there’s a whole other storyline in the movie – the financial troubles of Lin, played by Jack Kao, who makes origami and wooden houses for the deceased to reside in for the afterlife. Though Lin’s interactions with his clients, who are mostly Taiwanese gangsters in search of proper “feng shui” for their elderly fathers’ imminent deaths, provides much of the black comedy of the movie, the scenes involving Lin and his family also showcase the beauty of rural Taipei, with its green mountains and sprawling landscapes on the outskirts of the metropolis. When Lin and his family end up selling their land to pay for a costly operation, the central theme of displacement comes to the fore; it seems that, contrary to possessing a fixed “place of one’s own,” all the characters of the movie seem to be moving around constantly, only achieving permanence in death.
Despite embodying this somewhat depressing notion, director Ian Lou and producer Singing Chen collaborate beautifully to create a work that finds joy in the often tragic trappings of reality. Indeed, with the possible exception of Mozi, every major and minor character demonstrates a remarkable degree of courage against their own circumstances of adversity, showing that they can persevere with or without a true place of belonging.
A Place of One’s Own. Director: Yi-An Lou. Producer: Singing Chen. 118 minutes, 2009.
Cast: Tzu-Yi Morning Mo, Chia-Hsin Lu, Jack Kao, I-Ching Lu, Zheng-Gang Tang, James Wen.