(Hokkien, Mandarin & Cantonese dialogue)
An offbeat, stylish riff on the recent spate of urban alienation pix from Taiwan, “Treasure Island” looks unlikely to mine much gold outside the fest circuit but reps an interesting sophomore bauble from critic-turned-director Chen Kuo-fu.
Story this time round involves a group of young Taipei residents drawn into the city’s underworld through the growing obsession of one, the boyish Ah-feng (Lin Chung), for the sexy Cantonese mistress (Veronica Yip) of a gang boss (Jack Gao).
Others involved include Ah-feng’s vacant g.f. (Tracy Su), his feisty friend Maggie (Amy Lee) and womanizing cool dude Polo (David Wu). Final reels and climactic, semisurreal shootout leave only a couple alive.
Sinophiles familiar with titles like “Rebels of the Neon God” and “Dust of Angels” will spot intriguing grace notes recalling those pix. And in its portrayal of casual violence and designer gangsters in Taipei’s underbelly, there’s more than a few echoes of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s late-1980s “Daughter of the Nile.” Hou himself exec produced current item through his own City Films.
Though much of the pic’s dry humor (and flavorsome switching between Chinese dialects) will pass general auds by, the movie’s high-sheen packaging, careful compositions and right-on casting set this on a separate level from most of its kind.
Relationships are clearer, and the clever working-out of the complex plot shows unusual care at script stage. Plus, when quietly trading on commercial genres, ex-critic Chen knows whereof he speaks.
Performances are fine, headed by local pop star Lin (the young lead in Hou’s “The Puppetmaster”) as the kid, Gao (from “Dust of Angels”) as the saturnine mob boss, and Lee, strong as his spunky friend Maggie. Hong Kong sex star Yip, in her first arty role, is decorative.
Technically, pic is first-rate, with striking city and nightscapes by Chang Ta-lung. Chinese title literally means “Only Want to Live a Day for You.” English title is strictly ironic.