10+10: Berlin Film Review

Berlinale Film Festival
Taiwanese shorts anthology is a mixed bag.

A collection of five-minute shorts, commissioned by the Tapei Golden Horse Film Festival, celebrates “the uniqueness of Taiwan” on its 100-year anniversary.

10+10 doesn’t quite add up to 20 in this varied collection of Taiwanese shorts by some of the island’s leading filmmakers. Commissioned by the Tapei Golden Horse Film Festival, each movie was given a five-minute running time to speak about “the uniqueness of Taiwan” on its 100-year anniversary, with the results ranging from more accessible genre fare to minimalist mood pieces to commentaries on local politics and pop stars that only aficionados will grasp. A Berlin Panorama slot, plus the participation of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, should ensure further fest bids and a small-scale DVD release.

As a rule, short film collections tend to have their highlights and their low points (just think of Paris, je t’aime or its weaker New York sequel), and 10+10 is no exception. Perhaps one advantage to this ensemble piece is that with a max of five minutes per film, in the very least the bad ones fly by quickly enough, while the more memorable ones manage to leave their mark. On the other hand, to the non-Taiwanese specialist, many of the references of at least half the works may be lost in the shuffle.

Two of the anthology’s more sensational works are also pure genre exercises: In Bus Odyssey, a dreary rainy-day commute is cut short by a sudden act of violence, with documentary filmmaker Shen Ko-shang (Baseball Boys) using taut editing and gritty black-and-white images to introduce genre tropes within a hyper-realistic setting. Another thriller-type tale is present in Chung Mong-hong’Reverberation, where a teenage bullying episode spirals into a gruesome, Haneke-esque home invasion plot, buckets and baseball bats included.

Viewers unschooled in the conflicted history of Taiwan (aka the Republic of China) may better digest such purely visceral fare than they will some of the film’s more metaphorical pieces, including Chang Tso-chi’s kitschy war drama Sparkles, which cramps a Saving Private Ryan-style flashback narrative into five overblown minutes of nostalgia and mayhem. Much better realized, if somewhat obtuse to the ill-informed, is Cheng Yu-chieh’s film shoot spoof Unwritten Rules, which has an amateur movie crew confronted with an unexpected obstacle: the Taiwanese flag (also the official flag of mainland China until the Communists took power in 1949).

One of the most striking shorts is Hou Chi-jan’s Green Island Serenade, an elegant cinematic poem mixing images of past and present to the melodies of the 1954 song. Such plotless fare plays well when it showcases the director’s visual skills, even if the story is sacrificed in favor a certain underlying ambiance. Unfortunately, not all of the mood-pieces are as easily digested, and Wei Te-sheng’s Debut – in which first-time actor Lin Ching-tai heads to Venice for the 2011 premiere of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale – is a cringe-worthy bit of self-promotion that combines a weepy voiceover with the 5-star mundanities of a film festival.

10+10 is bookended by two shorts which perhaps best reflect the collection’s overarching theme of old vs. new, tradition vs. modernity: While it isn’t one of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s more noteworthy works, La Belle Epoque features regular star Shu Qi receiving a gift passed down through generations, and then posing for a pleasant family portrait. More on the clever side is Wang Toon’s opener The Ritual, where a trek to a secluded shrine becomes a satire on religious practices in the age of the 3-D blockbuster.

Tech credits range from sleek widescreen to home video-style HD, though the overall package is pro.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special)

Production companies: Tapei Golden Horse Film Festival

Cast: (The Ritual) Tsai Ming-hsiu, Hsieh Chi-wen; (Bus Odyssey) Nikki Hsieh, (The Orphans) Chang Fang-yi; (100) Cheng Chin-shan; (A Grocery Called Forever) Li Hou Lou-yuan; (Destined Eruption) Kou Chia-jui, Jenny Liao; (The Debut) Peggy Tseng, Doris Wang, Chen Yu-hsun; (Green Island Serenade) Chi Lu-hsia, Jian Man-shu, Huang He River; (Debut) Lin Ching-tai; (Hippocamp Hair Salon) Lee Lieh, Ko I-chen, Laurence Ko; (Sparkles) Cheng Shih-hua, Wu Li-yuan; (Key) Kwai Lun-mei; (Old Man & Me) Lai A-jie; (The Dusk of the Gods) David Chang; (Unwritten Rules) Kao Ying-hsuan, Huang Jian-wei, Chang Chieh; (Reverberation) Jack Kao, Lu Yi-ching, Leon Dai; (The Singing Boy) Kuan-yi Lee, Qiu Qin-quan, Matt Wu; (Something’s Gotta Give); ZaiZai Lin, Era Wang; (Lane 256) Joseph Chang, Angela Chang, Eugene Suen; (La Belle Epoque) Shu Qi, Mei Fang

Directors, screenwriters: (The Ritual) Wang Toon; (Bus Odyssey) Shen Ko-Shang; (The Orphans) Chu Yen-ping; (100) Ho Wi-ding; (A Grocery Called Forever) Wu Nieh-jen; (Destined Eruption) Wang Shaudi; (The Debut) Chen Kuo-fu; (Green Island Serenade)  Hou Chi-jan; (Debut) Wei Te-sheng; (Hippocamp Hair Salon) Chen Yu-hsun; (Sparkles) Chang Tso-chi; (Key) Leon Dai; (Old Man & Me) Cheng Wen-tang; (The Dusk of the Gods) Sylvia Chang; (Unwritten Rules) Cheng Yu-chieh; (Reverberation) Chung Mong-hung; (The Singing Boy) Yang Ya-che; (Something’s Gotta Give) Hsiao Ya-chuan; (Lane 256) Arvin Chen; (La Belle Epoque) Hou Hsiao-hsien

Producers: (The Ritual) Hu Hsin Yi; (Bus Odyssey) Li Meng-chien; (The Orphans) Lin Sheng-kuo; (100) Hu Chin-hsin; (A Grocery Called Forever) Cheng Nien-hsiang; (Destined Eruption) Jeyi An; (The Debut) Eason Ko; (Green Island Serenade) Aileen Li; (Debut) Huang Chih-ming; (Hippocamp Hair Salon) Tsui Tung-chien; (Sparkles) Gao Meng-jie; (Key) Liu Wei-jan; (Old Man & Me) Chuo Jiun-hua; (The Dusk of the Gods); Atyn Lin; (Unwritten Rules) Lin Shih-ken; (Reverberation) Song Ming-chung; (The Singing Boy) Wang Min-li; (Something’s Gotta Give) Hsiao Jui-lan; (Lane 256) Liu Wei-jan, In-ah Lee; (La Belle Epoque) Liao Ching-sung

Directors of photography: (The Ritual) Mahua Hisn Hua Feng; (Bus Odyssey) Chien Yu-tao; (The Orphans) Pun Yiu-ming; (100) Jack Pollock; (A Grocery Called Forever) Wang Chun-ming; (Destined Eruption) Huang Tien-jen; (The Debut) Jake Pollock; (Green Island Serenade) Kwan Pun-leung; (Debut) Liao Ching Yao, Huang Hung-chi, Wang Yen-ni, Chian Yi-ning; (Hippocamp Hair Salon) Sam Hu; (Sparkles) Li Jian-hung, Chang Yi-ming; (Key) Chang Hsiang-yu; (Old Man & Me) Chang I-feng; (The Dusk of the Gods); Joshua Lin; (Unwritten Rules) Liao Ching-yao; (Reverberation) Chung Mong-hung; (The Singing Boy) Chou Yi-hsien; (Something’s Gotta Give) Lin Tse-chung; (Lane 256) Yu Fisher; (La Belle Epoque) Yao Hung-i

Editors: (The Ritual) Lai Meng-jie; (Bus Odyssey) Huang Kuan Chun; (The Orphans) Chen Po-Wen; (100) Jack Pollock; (A Grocery Called Forever) Lin Yung Yi; (Destined Eruption) Chen Hsiao-tung; (The Debut) Chen Hsiao-tung; (Green Island Serenade) Liao Ching-sung; (Debut) Chan Hsiao-tung; (Hippocamp Hair Salon) Wei Hao-chih; (Sparkles) Chang Tso-chi; (Key) Chang Hsiang-yu; (Old Man & Me) Chang I-feng; (The Dusk of the Gods); Sylvia Chang, Sky Dominic; (Unwritten Rules) Hsu Hung-yuan; (Reverberation) Lo Shih-jing (The Singing Boy) Chen Hsiao-tung; (Something’s Gotta Give) Fem; (Lane 256) Arvin Chen; (La Belle Epoque) Liao Ching-sung

Sales Agent: Huayi Brothers International

No rating, 115 minutes