'52Hz, I Love You': Film Review

52Hz I Love You -Still 1- H 2017
Courtesy Lighten Distribution
Hits the right frequency for receptive audiences.

A raft of Taiwanese pop stars step in front of the camera for the country’s answer to 'La La Land,' from director Wei Te-Sheng.

Evidently, there is a lonely whale out there in the ocean somewhere whose song can be heard at 52 hertz. Similarly, some lonely souls in contemporary Taipei sing at a frequency they hope will connect them to the love of their lives in the fluffy romantic confection 52Hz, I Love You, the latest from budding Taiwanese superstar director Wei Te-Sheng. Wei made his way to the international stage when his musically inclined romance, Cape No. 7, became Taiwan’s all-time box-office champ in 2008 to that time (besting the likes of Titanic, The Dark Knight and The Return of the King), and then followed up with the ambitious, five-hour Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, a historical epic of Japanese conquest and indigenous resistance.

Now, Wei appears to have stepped back into Cape’s lightweight comfort zone. Front-loaded as it is with emerging pop stars with not-inconsiderable fan bases in Taiwan, the sunny, painterly musical — purportedly Taiwan’s first — may not reach the box-office heights that Cape did, but it should generate robust business at home; it opens just ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, and could easily linger until Valentine’s Day. Musicals in Asia are rare beasts: Im Kwon-taek’s traditional pansori Chunhyang and Peter Chan’s Perhaps Love are the only recent entries that spring to mind. But with audiences everywhere primed for old-fashioned musicals by La La Land, the nearly sung-through 52Hz, I Love You should find one of its own in Asia Pacific. Festivals will be a sure thing overseas, with limited niche market release not out of the question (a series of North American targeted winter screenings proved successful) for creative distributors.

The film starts on the morning of Valentine’s Day, and with a jaunty, jangly tune, in which lonely 33-year-old florist Xin (Zhuang Juanying of the band Katncandix2) bemoans the fact she’ll spend all day spreading love and getting none herself. Clearly reading way too much Newsweek, Xin goes on and on about her dwindling chances for finding Mr. Right at her advanced age (!), sharing a song with her decrepit, early-50s Auntie (Cyndi Chao) on the subject. Across town, budding chocolatier Ang (Lin Zhong-yu of Cosmos People) pines for longtime friend Lei, and has a Laura Esquivel moment of his own over his chocolate roses. Meanwhile, Lei (Men Envy Children’s Mify Chen, by far the strongest vocalist), a municipal bureaucrat, is preparing for a mass wedding, all along contemplating whether or not to end her decadelong, dead-end relationship with Da He (Suming Rupi of Totem), her sweet but irresponsible boyfriend. Little does she realize, Da He has finally had some good fortune, and plans on a lavish wedding proposal that evening, which naturally requires a trip to Xin’s flower shop.

Predictable though it may be (and really, does anyone go to a romantic musical expecting to be surprised?), Wei has been careful to replicate the whimsical ebbs, flows and beats required of the form, and 52Hz, I Love You captures the cotton candy essence of the musical romance rather effectively. Non-Chinese-speaking audiences shouldn’t have a problem tapping their toes to the typically Mandopop tunes by Lee Cheng-Fan and lyricist Yen Yun-Nung (ergo, midrange ballads). The opener is suitably upbeat and foundational, and Wei keeps things moving with a great moped-enhanced lecture to Lei about wasting her life with that bum, peaking with the melancholy belter “Goodbye Love,” where the main characters have their requisite emotional crises and wonder if things will work out their way.

There’s no hidden agenda in 52Hz: there are no threads about the cost of personal ambition, race relations or revolution hidden in the lyrics. This is unadulterated romantic yearning and fears of being alone. Wei and co-writers Yu Wen-Hsing and Soda Voyu make room for a lesbian couple (See You Tomorrow’s Sandrine Pinna and pop star Nana Lee) demanding to be married, as well as find a happy ending for the oldies: Ang’s widower boss (Seediq Bale star Lin Ching-Tai) and Xin’s aunt meet on a subway train and are clearly destined for love. Admittedly, some of the sentiment will be a touch retrograde for some tastes (Xin and her aunt’s duet about “thorny women” needing to have their thorns filed down is bit disturbing), but the appealing, wholly game cast — of actual singers — turn in strong enough acting performances to pull it off. Chen has the screen presence to be the breakout star, while Rupi surprises by injecting real depth into his impish man-child and keeping it from falling into archetype.

Production company: 52Hz Production
Cast: Zhuang Juan-Ying, Lin Zhong-Yu, Mify Chen, Suming Rupi, Sandrine Pinna, Nana Lee, Cyndi Chao, Lin Ching-Tai, Ma Ju-Lung, Pei Hsiao-Lan, Van Fan, Tanaka Chie, Ma Nien-Hsien, Ying Wei-Min, Min Hsiung, Shino Lin, Joanne Yang
Director: Wei Te-Sheng
Screenwriter: Wei Te-Sheng, Yu Wen-Hsing, Soda Voyu
Producer: Bob M. S. Wong, Lin Tian-Guei, Lin Yu-Je, Wei Te-Sheng
Executive producer: Jimmy Huang, Dennis Wu
Director of photography: Chin Ting-Chang
Production designer: Weng Rui-Xiong
Costume designer: Amanda Deng, Lin Xin-Yi, Tu Mei-Ling
Editor: Milk Su
Music: Lee Cheng-Fan
Casting: Lee Hsiu-Luan
World sales: ARS Film

In Mandarin

No rating, 110 minutes