Drifting Flowers

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Hong Kong International Film Festival

HONG KONG -- Taiwan's Zero Chou has come a long way technically from "Splendid Float," a relatively rough-hewn story of a Taoist drag queen, and even from her Teddy-winning "Spider Lilies," wherein two young women struggle with their complicated relationship. Both films have a dreamy quality that occasionally draws attention away from weak scripts, garbled narrative construction and cliches. "Drifting Flowers" is Chou's strongest film to date, yet it still lacks a script strong enough to pull it all together.

Like her last film, any boxoffice success for "Drifting Flowers" at home and in the rest of Asia will rely on Chou's own reputation and the presence of veteran actress Lu Yi-Ching ("The Wayward Cloud," "The River"). The film is likely bound for a life on the festival circuit with little chance at a release outside Asia.

In three loosely connected segments that cross time periods, Chou documents the usual trials and tribulations of (mostly) lesbian love and the process of acceptance. In the first chapter, 8-year-old Meigo (Pai Chih-Ying) experiences her first taste of misguided jealousy when her blind, cabaret singer sister (and sole provider) Jing (Serena Fang) strikes up a romance with a musician, Chalkie (Chao Yi-Lan). Unable to understand her feelings, Meigo sets the three on a course that concludes in painful separation.

Part two sees Alzheimer's sufferer Lily (Lu Yi-Ching) struggling with her memories with the help of her AIDS-symptomatic husband of convenience Yen (Sam Wang). The final section flashes back to a young, breast-binding Chalkie in her rural hometown as she explores her burgeoning sexuality.

Everything about "Drifting Flowers" is competent, but the film only rises to the level of being intermittently engaging. By relying on some of the hoariest of "issues" as her jumping-off point (chiefly identity), Chou never really delves into the characters' psyches to offer anything new: Chalkie is -- surprise, surprise -- a tomboy faced with parental pressure and disapproval. Yen's AIDS status sees him abandoned by his partner. Chalkie is guided through her self-awakening by an ultra-feminine showgirl.

The film's strongest performer is Chao, who infuses the thinly written Chalkie with a level of empathy that belies the actual material's depth. She anchors the wisp of a story with a grace and dignity that leaves the only real lasting impression.

DRIFTING FLOWERS
A Third Vision Films production
Sales: Three Dots Entertainment
Credits:
Director: Zero Chou
Writer: Zero Chou
Producer: Sunny Chen, Liu Yun-Hou
Executive producer: Liu Yun-Hou
Director of photography: Hoho Liu
Production designer: Wang Zheng-Kai
Music: Christine Hsu
Costume designer: You Wen-Wen
Editor: Zero Chou, Hoho Liu
Cast:
Meigo: Pai Chih-Ying
Jing: Serena Fang
Chalkie: Chao Yi-Lan
Lily: Lu Yi-Ching
Yen: Sam Wang
Running time -- 98 minutes
No MPAA rating
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