t.l. Io strambo
怪胎 (Guai Tai)
Taiwan, 2020, 100’, Mandarin
Directed by: Liao Ming-yi
Script: Liao Ming-yi
Photography (color): Liao Ming-yi
Art Direction: Wu Chung-hsien
Music: Hsu Chia-wei
Editing: Liao Ming-yi
Producer: Ivy Chen
Production Company: Activator Marketing Company
Cast: Nikki Hsieh (Chen Ching), Austin Lin (Chen Po-ching)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Premiere status: World Premiere
The romantic comedy genre is so well-trodden that, unless you have popular stars in the lead roles, a unique story hook is necessary to set your film apart. Independent, iPhone-shot romantic-comedy-drama I WeirDO has such a hook: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The film’s protagonists share the illness and, besides being an impediment to normal living, it makes them both quirky and ultimately quite lovable.
Introducing himself in voiceover, Chen Po-ching (Austin Lin) explains his OCD and how it impacts his life. He needs his days to go exactly as planned or he defaults to compulsively washing his hands. On his monthly visit to the grocery store – which he takes while wearing a rain slicker, a surgical mask and rubber gloves – Po-ching finds that his regular store is closed. Forced to find an alternative, he chances into Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh), who’s also suffering from OCD and also dressed head-to-toe in PPE.
Ching and Po-ching end up at the same store where she steals chocolate and flees the scene. She doesn’t eat the candy – she just steals it because that’s what her OCD demands – and she and Po-ching go their separate ways. But their “meet cute” becomes a “meet again cute,” and soon they’re going on outings, taking on OCD challenges (like eating street food or picking up trash), and eventually cohabitating. Romance blossoms and, even if it means suffering from OCD forever, the two decide they never want things to change.
For most of its running time, I WeirDO is played for deadpan laughs and cute weirdness. Given our uncertain times, it’s hard not to read into the couple’s germ-proof wardrobe as meaning more than it does. However, writer-director Liao Ming-yi seems transparent with his aims, and keeps matters blithely pleasing and amusingly quirky. It’s always nice to see a weirdo find the one person out there who “gets” them. For all its powers, cinema is sometimes most arresting when it simply observes two people falling in love.
Liao Ming-yi knows something about movie love: he was the executive director of youth romances You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011) and At Café 6 (2015), the latter featuring Austin Lin in a Golden Horse Award-winning role. Nikki Hsieh is also a Golden Horse Award winner, for Reflections (2005), and she and Lin share fine chemistry, buoyed in large part by the film’s tone, which sometimes resembles anime in its timing and action. Besides his characters, Liao uses symmetrical compositions and bright art direction to get across the couple’s off-kilter love. The film is even framed oddly – it’s initially in portrait orientation, entrapping the actors in a smaller space indicative of their limited existence.
However, the orientation eventually switches to landscape, opening up the film to a larger, more beautiful, but also more complex world. It turns out that OCD isn’t just a plot hook in I WeirDO – it’s a metaphor for the blissful stasis at the start of new relationships, when love’s glow permeates every moment. But change is introduced – and when a person changes, they no longer are the person you love. For Chen Ching and Chen Po-ching that means the person who “got” them no longer does.
The shift is jarring in that a quirky comedy becomes a weightier drama; Liao twists his romcom into an existential examination of relationships, and while that may not sound pleasing, it’s actually quite appropriate for the story he’s telling. Essentially, the film pulls the same trick on the audience that it does on its characters: it introduces change, makes those we care about unrecognizable, and leaves us to pick up the pieces. Art has many goals, including to entertain and to express truth. I WeirDO arguably does both.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Liao Ming-yi (b. 1980) began working in the media industry after attending the Graduate School of Applied Media Arts at the National Taiwan University of the Arts. Besides working in various positions on many films, music videos and commercials, Liao has directed seven short films, and served as executive director and editing director of Taiwan megahit You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011), which broke box-office records across Asia. I WeirDO is Liao’s feature directorial debut and was shot using the iPhone XS.
2020 – I WeirDO