As Au Revoir Taipei begins, twentysomthing Kai stands in the street watching the love of his live slip away in a cab bound for the airport, for a plane bound for Paris. She’s not more than a few yards away before his mind starts plotting a way for him to reunite with her in the City of Lights.
With no money and no prospects, his only option to earn that ticket out of town is by doing a favor for the neighborhood crime kingpin. And as anyone who’s seen a Mafia movie knows – those favors normally come with complications. Kai’s problems come via a quartet of bumbling gangsters, who think the package Kai is delivering for the mob boss is their shot at a big score. On the night before he’s scheduled to leave for Paris, Kai and the hoods engage in a cat-and-mouse game played out on the dark streets of Taipei.
What elevates Au Revoir Taipei above the usual cloak and dagger maneuvering is Kai’s developing friendship with Susie, a girl who works in the bookstore that Kai visits to read French phrase books to prepare for his trip. Through a chance meeting outside a streetfood cart, Susie gets sucked into Kai’s dilemma. And if you saw Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist a few years ago or this spring’s Date Night, you know that nothing brings two people close quickly like an all-night race against time.
Jack Yao and Amber Kuo instill a sweet innocence in Kai and Susie. Wide-eyed glances and hopeful smiles ping pong back and forth between the two in the quite moments they steal among the chaos. A jazzy, French-accented score reminds us that we’re not in a serious action movie. And Director Arvin Chen wisely steers clear of any real violence or stylized action so as to not distract from the real heart of the story. While Angelina Jolie evades her attackers in Salt with fists and daring acrobatics, Kai and Susie give their pursuers the slip by blending in with a Lindy Hop dance class.
Love, both lost and found, is at the center of this sweet film from Taiwan. At times, it leans a little heavy on meet-cute conventions in place of true originality – the goofy best friend who sparks the interaction; the quick, unexpected embraces. Still, romantic comedies are our cinematic comfort food. And when a film faithfully follows a time-tested recipe, don’t you expect the outcome to taste how you hoped it would?
Au Revoir Taipei screens Friday at 7 p.m. and July 29 at noon at the Magnolia. In Mandarin with English subtitles. 85 min. Click here to read Art&Seek’s Q&A with AFFD Executive Director Julie Hwang.