When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep: Film Review

The Taipei-set rom-com is a charmer.

Two victims of heartbreak are united by whimsy in Hou Chi-Jan's winning comedy.

MONTREAL – Two young eccentrics grow close while nursing broken hearts in Hou Chi-Jan's When a Wolf Falls in Love With a Sheep, a rom-com so cute you sometimes worry you're going to have to stuff it in a sack with some kittens and drown it in the river. Moviegoers not prone to kitten-killing will forgive its occasional excesses, focusing instead on a charm that might call other films to mind but does not feel borrowed from them; given the right attention, it could make a respectable showing at art houses.

Taiwanese pop singer Ko Chen-Tung plays Tung, whose wanderlusty girlfriend Ying broke up with him via a Post-It note saying she was going to a cram school -- one of the intense tutoring centers aimed at ambitious Taipei students. Heartbroken, he abandons his old life. Hoping to encounter Ying on the street, Tung moves to a neighborhood full of cram schools and starts working in a copy shop that Xeroxes their practice exams.

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Starting to find his groove in this whittled-down existence, Tung crosses paths with Yang (Jian Shu-Man), a pixie-haired instructor in the habit of doodling cute sheep cartoons on the tests she makes. When Tung starts adding his own wolf drawings to her sheep while copying the assignments, amused students become obsessed with the playful correspondence adorning their otherwise numbing schoolwork. The two start spending time together outside work hours, swapping relationship stories and assisting in whimsical projects like Yang's attempt to make the scooters parked beneath her window line up tidily.

Some of these little aesthetic fixations (Yang loves the smell of warm, fresh-from-the-copy-machine exams, for instance) might put viewers in mind of the plucky heroine Audrey Tautou played in Amelie. And while When a Wolf is much less romantic about its environs than Jean-Pierre Jeunet was about Montmartre, it is just as interested in creating a sense that the few cramped blocks these two inhabit are a world apart, populated by colorful characters (Tung's boss, for instance) and nurturing of youthful idealism. When Tung decides he should do "one good deed a day" and tries to reconnect long-graduated students with significant trinkets they abandoned in their school lockers, he triggers love-story vignettes that allow the film to push our buttons without accelerating the non-sexual flirtation he and Yang are engaged in.

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Hou's storytelling is brisk and playful, employing animated sequences and stop-motion action that complement his protagonists' personalities. Flashes of slapstick offset the preciousness, while little glimpses of the history of this neighborhood lay the groundwork for a climax that is shamelessly romantic while staying true to the picture's oddball character.

Production Companies: Strawberry Time Films, Filmagic Pictures

Cast: Ko Chen-Tung, Jian Shu-Man, Guo Shuyao, Bryan Chang, Peggy Tseng

Director-Screenwriter: Hou Chi-Jan

Producers: Li Yaohua, Zeng Han-xian, Chen Hong-yuan

Director of photography: Patrick Chou

Production designer: Tsai Pei-Ling

Music: Owen Wang

Costume designer: Wei Hsiang-jung

Editor: Li Wenders

No rating, 85 minutes