Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Sunday, April 23, time 1.10 PM

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At Café 6

Nostalgic youth romances have long been popular at Taiwan cinemas, but novelist-director Giddens’ mega-hit You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011) sent the trend into overdrive. You Are the Apple of My Eye played Far East Film Festival 14 to positive reaction, and was followed at FEFF by Taiwan youth romances Café. Waiting. Love (2014), based on a Giddens novel, and popular hit Our Times (2015). Director Neal Wu’s At Café 6 (2016) joins the group for FEFF 19, and the film’s high school setting, broadly-played nostalgia, and scenes of flirtation and heartbreak are very familiar. However, At Café 6 possesses a somber edge that makes it more ambitious and darker than your typical entry in this genre.

At Café 6 opens with a café owner (Leon Dai) telling a story from his youth to a customer (Sandrine Pinna) who’s fighting with her beau. The story concerns Guan Ming-lu (Dong Zijian), an average high school student who admires the pretty and smart Xin-rui (Cherry Ngan). Through many circumstances, most especially the prodding of his best friend Zhi (Austin Lin), Ming-lu begins to woo Xin-rui. There are day trips to the countryside, fights with local toughs, and even a rival suitor, and through it all Ming-lu and Xin-rui manage to connect. These scenes are endearing and effective, though tension does lurk in the background. Xin-rui fears the future, while Ming-lu neglects other portions of his life for his new love.
While the first half of At Café 6 is pleasant and sweet, the second half presents unfortunate realities of young love. The budding couple is separated – she goes to a university in Taipei, while he goes to a lesser school closer to home – and the strain shows immediately. She has worldly aspirations, while he wants the two to remain in their hometown, and soon their paths begin to diverge. Some of these differences unfold in Ming-lu’s internal monologue, while others are revealed in scenes of painful obtuseness. The young couple’s disillusionment occurs in an abrupt and frustrating fashion that, despite the glossy production values and fine settings, comes off as real.

Like other films in its genre, At Café 6 explores familiar adolescent emotions. However, Neal Wu demonstrates that young love has its price and may leave horrible scars. Adapting from his own novel, Wu attempts greater weight with his nostalgic youth romance, and his intentions have the potential to go unnoticed behind the familiar, more pleasing genre tropes. Ultimately, the film goes to a place that’s incredibly dark, considering the expectations created by similar-looking films. And yet, as an antidote to or even a subversion of this typically light and sunny genre, At Café 6 manages strong poignancy.

The leads are accomplished despite their youth. Mainland actor Dong Zijian was praised at the Cannes Film Festival for Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart (2015), while Hong Kong’s Cherry Ngan earned a Best Actress Hong Kong Film Award nomination for The Way We Dance (2013). Neither is from Taiwan – an odd choice considering the local settings, but the casting is inspired. Dong’s acting has soul, while Ngan is empathetic, if slightly underdeveloped. Funnily enough, the film is stolen from both by Taiwan actor Austin Lin. As Ming-lu’s best friend, Zhi, Lin mugs and overacts, but the deep sincerity and affection that he shows for Ming-lu resonates. Lin recently earned a Best Supporting Actor trophy at the Golden Horse Awards – recognition for a performance that, like At Café 6 itself, is unexpected and deserving of a closer look.
Ross Chen (www.lovehkfilm.com)
Film director: 
Neal Wu
Year: 
2016
Running time: 
103

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