Film Review: Ting Che

BOTTOM LINE: Black humor and smooth storytelling accompany a long night's journey into Taipei's parking hell.

Cannes FIlm Festival Un Certain Regard

Double parking evolves into a pert metaphor for Taipei's urban chaos and the obstacle-strewn nature of life in "Ting Che," a neat concept film by Chung Mong-Hong. Using a man's Kafkaesque attempts to get his car out as the narrative link, Chung devises a chain of bizarre encounters and confrontations that are by turns amusing and disquieting.

The film has gone down well with critics when it premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard section. Making festival rounds will certainly generate more advantageous word of mouth, especially in Chinese-speaking markets, where leading man Chang Chen and supporting actress Kuei Lun-mei rope in two distinct age groups.

"Ting Che" which means 'Parking,' begins its detour from quotidian life when protagonist Chen Mo (Chang Chen) buys a Tiramisu and quibbles about its "lack of dynamism" to the cake-maker's chagrin. The film is peppered with this kind of cryptic, quasi-philosophical banter which sustains a theatrically absurd air as Chen makes karmic connections with a one-handed barber, a mourning family, a tailor with a father complex, a triad boss and a pimp, while searching for the driver who double-parked outside the shop.

"Ting Che" echoes a recent spate of Taiwan films that weave together disparate stories, notably "The Most Distant Course" and "God Man Dog." Alejandro Inarritu's works makes a close western parallel. Chung's assured narrative skill is evident in his variation of mood and protagonists in each story, while keeping the episodic form in a tight time-frame (one night) and location (an old building). Yet, like his documentary "Doctor", he mistakes melodrama for profundity. Despite the range of characters and fetching performances by veterans Jack Kao, Chapman To and Leon Dai, plots are almost all implausible, with the ending most make-believe.

Chung has plenty of style to spare, but only a hint of substance. The highlight of the film is a toilet scene involving a wide-eyed fish head. A delicious visual joke, no doubt. But like the white paint artfully splashed on a tailor's torso, or the ending's flashy experimental shot of a centipede, they are devised more for aesthetic effect, than essential to the plot. Art direction is lush, with duskily lit 70s retro decors and cinematography of a mellow, velvety texture. The lyrical music features some violin pizzicato that sounds like the score of "In the Mood for Love."

Cream Production

Cast: Chang Chen, Jack Kao, Kwai Lun-Mei, Leon Dai, Chapman To, Peggy Tseng.

Screenwriter-director-director of photography: Chung Mong-Hong.
Producers: Shao-Chien Tseng, Jane H. Hsiao.
Art director: Shih-Hao Chao.
Music: An Dong.
Costume designer: .
Editor: Shih-Jing Lo.
Sales: Good Films Workshop.
No rating, 113 minutes.