Saturday, May 9, 2009
Review – Su Mi Ma Sen Love
May 9, 2009
Su Mi Ma Sen Love – Taiwan, 2008
There is an innocence to Lin Yu-Hsien’s Su Mi Ma Sen Love that is both refreshing and ridiculous at the same time. It’s the kind of film in which moments of tenderness and honesty are soon followed by instances of loneliness that occasionally contain a certain amount of immaturity and desperation. How else can we explain a young man telling a complete stranger that if a NT $500 bill he gives her finds its way back to him it means that she is meant to be his girlfriend? I have a feeling that if someone said that in the U.S. the woman would decline his assistance and walk away hastily. However, the young woman seems not to be disturbed by this proposition at all. She simply laughs it off and politely reminds him that they just met, implying that this kind of talk is a little premature. The man, to his credit, is not put off by her response, which may indicate the playfulness with which he made the remark in the first place.
The woman (Chie Tanaka, playing a variation of herself), a young modal from Japan, is in a jam – her wallet is gone and she has to return to Taipei that night. Earlier in the film, we see why she felt the need to get away. At a photo shoot, which she arrived late to, she had been unable to concentrate and then had the unfortunate experience of hearing that the pictures she posed for were just not good enough to be used, a sentiment that I didn’t share, but then again, what do I know about modeling? As the woman hears her critics’ harsh words, her face shows a mixture of personal hurt and disappointment in herself. Moments later, we see her lying on her bed at home giving herself a pep talk through a stuffed rabbit. Hers is the voice of doubt; the rabbit’s is the voice of encouragement. The rabbit wins her over. To get her head straight, she takes a day trip to Kaohsiung, and there, she loses her wallet. Her dismay is seen by a young man (Wu Huai-chung) who is equally unable to focus on his work. He gives her some money and the two soon part. Of course, they don’t stay parted for long. For reasons unexplained – perhaps it's fate - they both wind up at the same church. One thing leads to another, and soon they are spending the day together.
Su Mi Ma Sen Love works best when it allows these characters to reveal themselves. Through their discussions, we learn that they do indeed have many similarities. They have an easy time communicating and eventually find themselves opening up about some fairly personal details. Their day together also allows viewers to see the city of Kaohsiung. We see its magnificent towers, its vanishing traditional markets, and one of its most famous tourist attractions, the Love River. Seeing the film, I could help but marvel at how much the city has changed since the last time I was there. It now seems the perfect setting for two soul mates to meet and fall in love. Unfortunately, the two characters in Su Mi Ma Sen Love, despite all of the man’s wishes to the contrary, are not soul mates, at least not yet, for while she fits his description of the perfect woman – a girl who can keep all his secrets – he does not yet fit hers. To her, the ideal man “knows how to wipe a girl’s tears” – an action that she doesn’t give him the chance to perform. Instead, she prefers to cry in private, perhaps because to do so in front of him would make it so much harder to take the ride back to Taipei.
Unfortunately, Su Mi Ma Sen Love contains too many moments that reinforce the notion that she is much more mature than he is. The longer they spend together, the more frequently he brings up his desire for the money to find its way back to him. He even initiates one of the film’s oddest moments, one in which he symbolically removes his heart from his chest and blows it to her while they are in a tower overlooking Kaohsiung. To make the moment even stranger, she watches the invisible heart fly through the air, catches it, and appears to take a bite out of if before blowing hers to him. I suppose the scene was intended to be sweet; however, I had a very different impression of it. The same can be said for the young man’s reasons for carrying around an MP3 player. What he records on it is suppose to reveal a soul yearning for love and acceptance; however, I saw it as indicating his need for counseling.
In the end, Su Mi Ma Sen Love is mildly interesting. It offers people unfamiliar with Kaohsiung a chance to see it for themselves, and just like the woman in the film, viewers will no doubt be impressed by what they see. Moreover, the film contains some interesting conversations about the characters’ dreams, their career choices, and the woman’s difficulties upon completing a film. However, the film never approaches the level of importance that it should. We never get the sense that these two people should be together, and therefore, the fact that they probably won’t be is never something terribly unfortunate. It’s just part of life. (on DVD in Region 3)
2 and a half stars
*Su Mi Ma Sen Love is in Japanese and Mandarin with English subtitles.