One Day -- Film Review

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HONG KONG -- Flitting back and forth in time and traversing mindscapes, "One Day" is difficult to grasp and easy to feel. The story of two people falling in love in meta-dreams is layered like Russian M dolls. Director Hou Chi-jan's artistry lies not in the overwrought narrative structure but in evoking a rhapsodic sensation of youth and a lingering air of mystery.

To tune into the frequency of the languid narrative, its mesmeric repetitions and tangled time sequences requires attentive and patient cinephiles. This dampens commercial hopes, even with Hou Hsiao Hsien attached as Executive Producer. Festivals would be more responsive.

Singing (Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh), a young woman raised by her mother in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, works on the ferry that transports cadets to Taiwan's island military bases. On the deck, she sees a cadet (Bryan Shu-Hao Chang) with a compass just like the one her father left before he went missing at sea. His face gives her a sense of deja vu.

She wakes up at night to find the ferry empty, except for an Indian man who runs after her with an axe. Hiding inside a storeroom, she re-encounters the cadet, who tells her they are in a dream. In another dimension, Singing has moved to Taipei. She meets and dates the cadet in a study center where students rent cubicles to revise, to sleep, perchance to dream ...

Shot extensively on the ferry and around watery locations like the beach, the pier and the swimming pool, the film is a poetic cruise into the subconscious. The 'dream' spawns more dreams, opening up parallel worlds where memory crosses over with present and future, where thoughts and actions became indistinguishable.

The final twist recalls the narrative structures of "The Girl Who Leaped Through Time" and "Ditto." But Hou captures not only the ephemeral quality of first love but an experience unique to Taiwan's men. The ferry, army camp, the study center are ciphers of their collective memory of youth, spent in military service and cramming for college exams.

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More of a mood piece than a dramatic feature, "One Day" owes much to D.O.P. Mahua Feng's compositions, which are by turns meticulously symmetrical and sensuously impressionistic, lit with a soft, twilight haze. Particularly evocative are shots of the couple gazing into a blurry background, which symbolizes their uncertain future. The piano score is redolent of the melancholy of Satie.

To emphasize the dream-like condition, some scenes are repeated till they start to grate, particularly those involving the Indian shouting in his (unsubtitled) dialect.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival
Production: Strawberry Time Films
Cast: Nikki Hsin-Ying Hsieh, Bryan Shu-Hao Chang, Gwen Yao
Director-screenwriter: Hou Chi-Jan
Producers: Zoe C.J. Chen, Liao Shih-Han
Executive producer: Hou Hsiao Hsien
Director of Photography: Mahua Hsin-Hua Feng
Art director: Chen Yong-Jhih
Costume designer: Sung Han-Hui
Music: Han Cheng-Ye
Editor: Liao Ching-sung
No rating, 95 minutes
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