Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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LIAO MING-YI: IWeirDo 怪胎 (2020) - virtual NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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NIKKI HSIEH AND AUSTIN LIN IN IWEIRDO

How becoming normal can be alienating for the odd

Liao Ming-yi, emerging from a new generation of filmmakers from Taiwan out of music videos and using an iPhone XS Max (or actually a bevy of them), has produced a troubling and some think uniquely timely delight. AmandaTheJedi observes on Letterboxd, "I don't know if I've experienced something so delightfully quirky get so horrendously bleak so fast," and that is also true. Eye candy that takes us to a magical place and then makes staying there suddenly complicated when all it had been was safe.

In this vein we meet Chen Po-Ching (Austin Lin) and Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh), a cute couple in the making except they both suffer from OCD, which includes mysophobia, fear of contamination and dirt, causing them to suit up in gloves, surgical mask and raincoat (or as one urgently contemporizing blurb has it, "PPE") whenever they go out and to spend a lot of their time scrupulously cleaning house when at home, as they consider it far safer to be. They know they're two of a kind when they see themselves outside - at a grocery store, where Po-Ching spots Ching outfitted just like him and follows her from the subway car to the supermarket where he sees her compulsively shoplifting. (They also repeat rituals all the time, and stealing chocolate she can't eat is one of her regular ones). Po-Ching understands. They start dating. They move in together. They go out for challenges, like a recycling center or cleaning up outside. He is a translator who works at home. She is an occasional model in an art class.

The images are simple and eye candy bright, the two actors click and are cute and special. I love the delicate glimmer of violent in Hsieh's hair. Lin has a Spock peaked haircut and broad Magic Marker eyebrows, is tall and ripped but boyish, appealing but not a conventional bland Asian male cutie (we see one later).

Remember in De Sica's Chaplinesque Tuscan fantasy Miracle in Milan there is a couple in love, he is black and she is white. The day arrives when magic comes to the squatters' camp where they live and each makes a wish and rushes off happily to find each other with hope, then disappointment, the man now white, the girl now black? This story is something like that.

The shooting with an iPhone isn't so much a thing as it was with Sean Baker's Tangerine five years ago. You don't even notice it and as Maggie Lee notes in her Variety review, when midway the phone is turned and goes from confining academy ratio suited to the couple's restricted life to a "widening frame size (aspect ratio 1.85:1)" that matches one protagonist's expanded, but thus alienating world.

This is very clearcut theme-developing. But the parts that matter are the little details, the vigorous joint teeth-cleaning when preparing for a kiss and cleaning up after it, the glorious moment of picking up a tiny piece of dirt and not minding it. Liao enters this world of shared oddness and limitation with deepest sympathy and pictures it for us with effortless charm. He has a little trouble toward the end knowing how, well, to end, and falls into repeats and reversals that are themselves OCD-ish, but unsatisfying. But we can excuse that because this is such an original, artful, cherishable product. Except for that flubbing at the end the writing is very, very good. Bravo! Not to be missed.

(As for those who feel like Maggie Lee that this movie's especially relevant because it "plays out like Love in the Time of Corona," that's fine if it works for you: but this couple unites because they they're unlike, not like, everybody else as we with our masks and lock-down and social distancing are forced to be.)

Weirdo* 怪胎, 100 mins., debuted at Udine June 29, 2010, showing at Taipei Aug.7, with a theatrical release in Singapore Sept. 17. Screened for this review as part of the virtual New York Asian Film Festival (Aug. 28-Sept. 12, 2020).

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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