'It Takes Two To Tango' ('Che Pin'): Hong Kong Review
Veteran Taiwanese filmmaker Wan Jen shapes a Taiwanese courtship comedy into a metaphor for the relationship between the island and mainland China
As part of the so-called New Taiwan Cinema movement in the early 1980s, Wan Jen - like his more well-known contemporaries Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang - rose to prominence by asking the right questions at the right time, his realist dramas revealing his home country's past political purges and present poverty of the body and soul. But the youngster who once dared to expose the establishment has aged, and It Takes Two To Tango reveals an auteur going retro in both his story and his Meet the Fockers-like approach.
Revolving around how two families - one from mainland China, the other from Taiwan - lock horns over discussions of the marriage between their children, Wan's film - which he scripted with, among others, his sister Kemmy Wan and his editor-producer Liao Ching-song - is unfortunately inundated with lightweight, long-expired cultural stereotypes. And with reconciliation arriving fast and easy, the "war" the two patriarchs boast they will wage against each other suggests a naive if not passé perspective of how Taiwanese society is confronting its big-brother neighbor across the Taiwan Straits.
In the aftermath of young demonstrators storming and occupying government buildings in protest of perceived trade and political concessions to the mainland last March, it's hardly a surprise that It Takes Two To Tango raised hardly a ripple when it opened in Taiwan in November. The film's future probably lies on the festival circuit - with its first stop being Hong Kong next week - and also with screenings on campuses (as part of a Wan retrospective, maybe) for the Chinese-speaking diaspora less attuned to the partisan atmosphere in Taiwan.
The film's central couple is the high-flying Taiwanese executive Shin-yi (Wang Lo-yuan) and Zhong (Lee Tsung-yi), a young liberal-minded mainlander who has quit his career to become a musician. Though they start out working and living together in Beijing, Shin-yi leaves for home after a row over their different perspectives on life and in politics. Trying to win her back in Taiwan, their differences persist especially when Shin-yi brings Zhong to visit her parents in the provinces, with the young man running into an anti-mainland obstacle in the form of his girlfriend's candle-maker father Geng-shong (Chen Bor-jeng).
While easily putting the young man in his place, Geng-shong soon runs into a more formidable foe in the shape of the lad's father (Wen Haibo), a flamboyantly bling-bling cigar-muncher and Chinese patriot with stretch limos at the ready at the airport.
Wan's best films are all melancholic urban dramas. Not at home pacing and shaping gag-fuelled material and perhaps fearing that his serious message would be overwhelmed by laughs, Wan has delivered a piece which veers clumsily from po-faced reflection to hackneyed comedy and back again, with his cast never really jelling into an ensemble.
As the familial shenanigans spiral out of control, inspiring mostly indifference on the viewers' part, the two grandfathers (Wei Jen-ching and Chang Kuo-tung) come to the fore to save the day, their sub-plot finally yielding some textured characterizations to temper all the wacky behavior on display. Just like his pensioner characters, Wen seems lost in the new century of collisions that he struggles to transform into riveting drama.
Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival (Auteurs)
Production companies: Wan Jen Films Production
Cast: Wang Lo-yuan, Lee Tsung-yi, Chen Bor-jeng, Su Ming-ming, Hai Bo, Zhang Liqiu
Director: Wan Jen
Screenwriters: Wan Jen, Liao Ching-song, Kemmy Wan, Whyson Lim
Producers: Wan Jen, Liao Ching-song, Chang Chi-yung
Executive producer: Su Shou-chu
Director of photography: Shen Ray-yuan
Art director: Wan Jen
Costume: Chang Kuei-fang
Editor: Liao Ching-song
Casting Director (China): Guan Yi-fan
Music: Joe Chou, Krisna Wu
In Mandarin, Putonghua and Taiwanese
No rating; 102 minutes