Film Review: Cape No. 7

BOTTOM LINE: Sunny rock band blues beats with the rustic pulse of provincial Taiwan.

Pusan International Film Festival
A Window on Asian Cinema

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In Wei Te-sheng's "Cape No. 7," a motley crew of goofballs and eccentrics form a band to perform in their hometown's biggest gig ever. There are colorful character sketches, rowing and bonding, love interests and family feuds, the pursuit of dreams -- old riffs you've heard before, from "The Commitments" to variations like Korea's "This Happy Life." But with a little rearrangement to suit local taste, plus plenty of heart from cast and crew, the film hums its own sweet melody.

The film won the Grand Prize of the Taipei Award this year at the Taipei International Film Festival. The home-cooked brew of grassroots sentimentality, extremely local vernacular and light, cheery score propelled local boxoffice takings to about $1.6 million. The film is suitable for music-friendly festivals.

Aspiring rocker Aga (Van) failed to cut it in Taipei's band scene and bides his time as a postman in his seaside town. When asked to assemble a warm-up band for an outdoor gig by a hot Japanese singer, he is at first skeptical as his recruits are like extras suddenly given leading roles in a blockbuster.

Anyone who enjoys seeing small-time dreamers learn their groove, bicker, struggle and finally jell as a team will not be disappointed. The characters, though caricatured for comic effect, are pulled straight out of Taiwan provincial life, including a Chinese banjo player in his 80s and an aboriginal who keeps breaking into indigenous folksong.

The love plot between Aga and Tomoko (Chie Tanaka), an over-the-hill Japanese model, alternates with a romance between a Japanese teacher in colonial Taiwan and the local girl he abandoned when made to repatriate at the end of World War II. The two couples' entwined fates emerge through recitation of the teacher's love letters to his fiancee.

Although the film gives too much screen time to each minor character, which makes the narrative very spread out, its guileless charm makes one overlook its flaws. The ace cinematography shows off the stunning natural beauty of Taiwan's southern coastal towns.

Cast: Van, Chie Tanaka, Min-Hsiung, Ma Nien-Hsien, Ying Wei-Min, Shino Lin.
Director-screenwriter: Wei Te-sheng.
Executive producers: Jimmy Huang, Wei Te-sheng.
Producers: Jimmy Huang, Lin Tien-Kui, Lewis Lu, Tong Hu, Chang Chang-ti.
Director of photography: Chin Ding-Chang.
Production designer: Tang Chia-Hung.
Music: Fred Lu, Lo Chi-Yi.
Editors: Lai Hui-Chuan, Su Pei-I.
Sales agent: Good Films Workshop.
No rating, 133 minutes.
production: Ars Film Production.