Taipei Factory: Cannes Review

Multicultural quartet of Taiwan-filmed shorts brings mixed results.

Launched in Cannes, this Taiwanese collective project unites young Taiwanese directors with filmmakers from across the globe.

A portmanteau project designed to help propel young Taiwanese film talent onto the world stage, Taipei Factory is bookending the Directors' Fortnight program in Cannes this year. A joint enterprise between the Taipei Film Commission and the Fortnight section organizers, this feature-length patchwork is composed of four short films, each co-directed by a Taiwanese filmmaker in partnership with a collaborator from outside the island. The intentions are noble enough but the results are highly uneven, with little parity between the films in tone, theme or quality. This kind of collective promotional vehicle is tailor-made for festivals dedicated to new talent and Asian cinema, but commercial prospects outside Taiwan will be very limited.

The opening and closing sections provide conventional dramatic narratives, while the middle two are more experimental. A collaboration between Taiwan’s Singing Chen and South Korea’s Jero Yun, The Pig depicts the shared despair of an aging song-and-dance showgirl and an impoverished urban farmer who is forced to sell his prize pig just as his neighborhood is being demolished for redevelopment. A sporadic voiceover interweaves their lives with an ancient folk myth about a king who transforms himself into a fish to save his starving people. The visual style is strong and the performances solid enough, but the story feels very slight.

Silent Asylum, by the Taiwanese-Burmese filmmaker Midi Zhao and the French actor-artist-director Joana Preiss, combines harrowing docudrama testimony describing violent state oppression in Burma with Preiss reading somber poetry about Hiroshima. An important subject, but a bad fit for such an arty and mannered format. Equally underwhelming is the oddly titled A Nice Travel, by Taipei director Shen Ko-shang and Chilean Luis Cifuentes, an impressionistic jumble of episodes in the life of a young woman (Chu Chih-Ying) as she prepares to leave Taiwan to get married in Chile. Her rough sexual encounters, awkward family farewells and fragmentary conversations are mostly shot through a gimmicky visual filter that renders the left-hand edge of the screen blurry and color-drained. Which is technically interesting, but too randomly applied to make any kind of valid dramatic point.

The best of the quartet is the closing chapter, Mr Chang’s New Address, by Taiwanese director Chang Jung-chi and his Iranian collaborator, Alireza Khatami. This Kafka-esque fable follows a middle-aged professional man (Jack Kao) thrown into existential meltdown when his entire house mysteriously disappears, leaving just a wooden door at the end of his street. Further unfortunate events follow, culminating in a surreal deep-sea-diving episode in Taipei Harbor. Layered with dark humor and rich in allegorical potential, this is the only film of the four likely to leave viewers wanting more. There is unquestionable budding talent on show here, but overall Taipei Factory feels like a worthy cross-cultural experiment that gets lost in translation.

Unrated, 75 minutes