I like most romantic comedies. I don’t mind cute. I like to see the would be lovers, and future couples in nice clothes, and in nice apartments, and in attractive places. I don’t mind if they have good jobs and gobs of money, or they’re so attractive that there’s no way on earth that they would be sad or lonely. Because the opposite of all that is real life.
Anyway, I recently read a wonderful piece written by Didion, my film discussion colleague, over at her site. She did a write-up of Sidewalls, an Argentinian film, and a rom/com that seemed to be rather unique in its anti-rom/com structure, design, and characters.
One of the elements that was stressed by Didion read:
Most realistic of all: they live in tiny shoebox apartments on the same block in Buenos Aires, leading parallel lives. They cross one another’s paths regularly — but how will they learn that they’re perfect for one another? Even in such close proximity, the impersonal forces of urban life would seem to keep them ignorant of each other.
Which served to remind me of a film that I had seen about 9 years ago. It was called Turn Left Turn Right. Set in urban Taipei, we see vast crowds as the city teems with people who even in the midst of a heavy rain, all politely wait at an intersection for the Walk Sign. It is right in the opening minutes of the film that the directors – the internationally known Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai make sure we see their uniqueness which will set our leads apart from everyone else.
In a sea of black umbrellas, we see one of mint green and another of red. You can’t miss them from a distance – and to make sure that we don’t miss these two colorful umbrellas in the crowd, we are going to get a couple of close-ups.
These establish two things immediately. Ms Red Umbrella is a beautiful girl who reads a book while waiting for the walk sign, while standing beneath her umbrella, and in the midst of a rainstorm. This is Eve Choi played by the wonderful Gigi Leung and her character is a skilled translator who works for a Taiwanese publishing firm translating European literature into Chinese.
The guy beneath the green umbrella is John Liu and he’s played by the heart-throb Takeshi Kaneshiro – despite his Japanese name, he is half Chinese and half Japanese but has a Taiwanese nationality. In the film, he plays a struggling musician, a violinist actually. Liu is a magnet and he will attract women without even trying. Directors To and Wai convey this as almost instantly as the light changes, and people begin to cross the street, a beautiful girl runs up and says to John, May I share your umbrella?
What do our leads have to face when they get to work? The violinist is about to get canned from a recording session as his work is rather dreamy and romantic and the over-the-top, loud, and profane music producer wants a more commercial sound. John can’t do it. So he quits and walks off saying – I’m the wrong guy for this song. We later find him auditioning for a job in a restaurant, you know, the strolling violinist. The restaurant is called Fat Angelo’s, and Lam Suet, a regular in Johnny To films has the role. As soon as Angelo is convinced that John can fiddle out a Happy Birthday and Jingle Bells – John is hired. Gainful employment yes – but is this what he wants to do – not at all.
Meanwhile over at Eve’s place of employment, she’s getting an earful from her editor. She doesn’t have the translation ready, and her editor does a great job of reading her the riot act. It seems that Eve would rather translate the works of a little known, at least in Taiwan, romantic Polish poetess instead of the pulp fiction that they want her to translate.
So it seems that each has their hands full with their jobs.
Where do they live? Okay, this is the hook of the film. They share an address – let’s call it 10 Fujing Street. She’s in the A tower, and he’s in the B tower. They have separate entrances to their apartment blocks, but upstairs, their apartments are next to one another with each tower’s outer wall diving them. In short their bed’s headboards are separated by the buildings walls. But they’ve never met. When he leaves his building he turns right, and when she leaves her building, she turns left.
So even if they each race down their stairs and arrive on the street at the exact same moment – they head in different directions.
Once this is established we get a beautiful song and montage. We see them crossing paths (almost) on a continuing basis. They ride bikes in the opposite directions on each side of the same street. Or they pass in a revolving door one coming, one going. Or on escalator – one going up and one going down. Ditto the Metro station – one boarding one exiting. We just know that they’re going to meet eventually. They have to – otherwise they wouldn’t be the lead characters
And they will. But not before many near misses.
But it never happens easily. Once they do meet, the forces of nature intervene, and along the way each acquires a nemesis. Each nemesis is over-the-top, extremely loud, profane, and more than anything else – exceedingly obnoxious. For John it is the delivery girl from the Fast Food 88 – they cook it – she brings it to their apartments. For Eve it is the doctor who she went to college with who secretly admired her. She didn’t like him then, and still doesn’t.
That’s about all the set up you need. Turn Left Turn Right has its moments.
Some of it is funny, and beautiful and even romantic. We don’t get sunsets, or baskets of flowers. There’s no sex, and the dual nemesis are irritating beyond belief. Despite living only a few feet apart from each other, our couple never cross paths. Their lives are like parallel lines.
It is a film made from a graphic novel written and drawn by the famous Taiwanese author/artist Jimmy Liao. What you might call an adult fairy tale. Of course, as we all know – that’s what most romantic-comedies are at their core. Fairy tales for adults.
As the film’s tagline – says – Even parallel lines might cross paths some day. Wishful thinking, right? Three point five is the rating and I give the film this score because I like the leads who far outshine the script and the plot.
Here’s a look at a trailer:
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