Wednesday, May 27, 2009

145) Cape No. 7 (2008)

145) Cape No. 7 (2008) Dir: Te Sheng-wei Not Yet Released Date Seen: May 26th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

I may be missing something here but Cape No. 7, Taiwan's biggest grossing film of all tim, underwhelmed me because I didn't "get" the connection between leaving Taiwan to find a new home in Japan. That's to some extent due to my own cultural ignorance but it's also a lot to do with the florid and utterly prosaic language that those sentiments are couched in. Then again, while these voiceover-happy flashbacks to 1945 scenes serve as a prominent foil to the film's contemporary drama. They're meant to provide a historical precedent to Aga's contemporary malaise and hence are only as relatable as the film's protagonist, Aga (Van Fan).  

While it may be hard to decipher any sociohistorical meaning from these scenes, wherein a lovesick immigrant laments having to leave behind his home and the girl he loves, it's easy to read Aga. He's an angry young man with zero ambition and a huge chip on his shoulder. By reading the lost letters of this mysterious ancestor, Aga's mistrust of his home, his father the mayor (Hsi Tien Huang) and everyone that doesn't respect his misanthropy is supposed to abate. It doesn't however because Aga's an unsympathetic dick. And he's our protagonist. Ruh roh.

 Aga's so busy scowling at everyone that he never earns our affection, unlike a couple of the mostly underdevloped supporting cast--I'm thinking specifically of Uncle Mao (Johnny Chung Jen-Lin), the elderly postman and Malasun (Ma Nien-Hsien), the perky rice wine merchant.  The bulk of Cape No. 7's plot revolves around Aga's newfound desire to be surrounded by uncomfortably familiar faces thanks to a local concert that requires him to rock out with a motley crew of local musicians. He plays his guitar, proves his worth and wins Tomoko (Chie Tanaka), the girl of his mopey dreams and the person he's been glowering at the hardest throughout the film. And yet, by film's end, even with his artistic ego having been stroked and a girl to call his own, no such transformation occurs.

 If Aga's supposed to be the lead of a "crowd-pleasing" figure, my understanding of what crowds like must be woefully out of touch. First of all, though he's a prima donna,  Aga's just not very talented. While he can play the guitar well enough, the best song he can come up with in time for the big concert is a generic pop song with sappy and near incomprehensible lyrics like "be the skywalker of dreams." He won't let his bandmates to sing along with him and even tries to shoo away Old Mao when he tries to play a solo for their band's encore. He doesn't congratulate them or even patronizingly look on with pride when it the audience cheers on their improvised creative decisions and yet he still gets to the girl at the end.

And what a sham that relationship is. All he and Tomoko do to connect with one another is get into inconsequential conflicts regarding the band--she's its official manager--sleep together and then hold hands at the concert's climax. It's abundantly clear that by the morning after, there's no real connection between the two, not even the kind that should connect two people estranged by the sudden realization that they just did the nasty together with no recollection of the momentous occasion. They just stare off into their respective corners with nary a twitch to suggest there's some kind of spark between them, not a single unconscious bit of body language that suggests that these two may actually want each other. 

Hell, by the film's end, it's not his song that seals the deal but rather a token gesture from Rauma (Min Hsiung), one of Aga's quirky bandmates (he's a traffic cop--that wants to sing!), that wins her over. With no visible connection between the two, there's no way to understand what makes Taiwan attractive to today's generation, nor to figure out exactly what a "skywalker of dreams" does exactly. That's one conundrum that will almost certainly keep me up nights.

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