October 1, 2015
About Love – 2004, Taiwan/Japan/China
Films like About Love are nearly impossible to pull off successfully. In fact, the last one I saw that did so was Hal Hartley’s Flirt, which used the same dialogue in three very different situations and was fascinating to watch. All too often, though, films that are made up of different stories loosely surrounding a common theme are a mixed bag, usually comprised of one that is good enough to warrant being expanded into a feature film, one that is mildly interesting, and one that is best forgotten. Think 2004‘s Eros. Unfortunately, not even that last description can be applied to About Love, a film so jumbled and amateurish that it doesn’t contain a single memorable character or truly convincing love story, a sin for a film that has the audacity to call itself About Love.
The film begins on a promising note. In its first few moments, we are introduced to two artists in Japan, Yao (Bo-Lin Chen) from Taiwan and Michiko (Misaki Ito) from Japan. They are both struggling – he creatively and emotionally, her emotionally due to her long-distance relationship. In one scene, she notes poignantly, “It took four second to end a three-year relationship.” The cad. Eventually, the two meet. It is a brief meeting, brought on by a near encounter between her and his bicycle. He notices she is crying, and literally just like that, he is completely enthralled by her. What follows in one of the most immature and juvenile displays of affection I have seen in a film, one that would only seem romantic were if done by an inexperienced young high school student. Here, it comes across as neither realistic nor involving. Instead, it reeks of desperation, an attempt at being so cute that no one will notice how utterly pitiful such an action would be for adults to engage in in real life.
The second story takes place back in Taiwan, and in it we are introduced to Ah Su (Mavis Fan), a young woman building a wall unit at odd hours of the night. She can’t lift it, so she calls a young man named Tecchen (Ryo Kase), who she may have met at a bar, and tells him to come over. Once there, she asks him to help her lift the unit and then to paint it. His facial expression reveals that this was the last thing he thought he would be doing. Sparks fly briefly, but she halts them – a bit too roughly, I might add – saying that she was just using him to get over her ex. He seems okay with that.
Thus far, this portion of the film – if one ignores the moment that the pair pointlessly breaks into dance - has been fine. However, like the previous segment, it soon finds itself veering into ridiculousness. In no time, the two of them are off to find Ah-Su’s ex and ask him if he is willing to talk to her, presumably about a reconciliation.
Oddly enough, the problem with the segment is the very reason it is initially interesting. Tecchen is not from Taiwan and speaks very broken Chinese. This has great potential in a movie about love, for what better message to emphasize than love’s ability to transcend words. Alas, it quickly becomes evident that the segment’s writer intends to use the technique strictly for comic relief, and in a later scene, we are supposed to laugh when he is unable to convey Ah Su’s ex’s message to her. The problem is that viewers can easily decipher what Tecchen says; therefore, there is no reason for her not to be able to. And if she is able to figure out her ex’s message, but chooses not to reveal her understanding, what does it say about her that she keeps harassing Tecchen about his inability to translate it accurately? The first option is the result of a poor screenplay; the second would reveal a character who doesn’t deserve the effort Tecchen is making for her.
In the film’s final segment, we are swept across the Taiwan Straits to Shanghai, where a Japanese teacher from the film’s first segment arrives to… well, I’m not exactly sure what he arrives to do. He doesn’t seem to be teaching Japanese or learning Chinese. In fact, it appears that he gets a job in a restaurant and simply waits around for his girlfriend to reply to his letters. While there, he befriends the daughter of a woman he is renting an apartment from, and she develops a crush on him. In one scene, he appears to realize this, but by the very next scene, he has apparently forgotten it, so much so that in a later scene he is absolutely stunned to discover that she had feelings for him. Of course, by now, it is too late – for both him and the movie.
And that is all there is to the film. Three incomplete love stories that reveal neither insight into nor an understanding of love. Instead, we are treated to tales of such immaturity and falseness that I began to wonder if anyone involved in the construction of the film knew anything about real love. Here, we have the equivalent of high school crushes, the kind that people later talk about as having been steps in their maturation, not as evidence of their achievement of actual mature love. This is unfortunate, for the performances in the film are not bad, and the third segment is indeed watchable. However, in the end, About Love is too cute for its own good, frustratingly simplistic, and utterly forgettable. It is about nothing of substance and offers nothing worth taking to heart about love. (on DVD)
*About Love is in Japanese, Chinese, and English with English subtitles.