A correction was made to this review on July 31, 2003.
Taiwanese scripter Su Chao-pin (“The Cabbie,” “Double Vision”) makes a smooth transition to directing with “Better Than Sex,” a frenetic comedy that plays fast and loose with local censorship while consistently delivering substantial laughs. Co-helmed with Lee Fong-bor, the multi-strand movie, which plays like “Taiwanese Pie” with nods to Quentin Tarantino, is enjoyably complex without becoming incomprehensible. Following solid B.O. in its own backyard last year, pic is likely to flourish in Asian sidebars and in Far East territories with less restrictive censorship.
Rapidly establishing a wide ensemble in its first minutes, pic centers on Lin Tsu-chuang (Michael Wong), a well-hung 17-year-old who has been mentored by Boss Cheng (Bobby Chen), a purveyor of illegal pornography. Cheng, however, has instilled in his charge the paramount importance of sex with love. When Cheng dies after a car chase, he bequeaths Lin a photograph of a mysterious nude model, plus a key to a secret passageway where the lonely Cheng had spied upon her.
Meanwhile, the model’s cop husband (Leon Dai), who previously reprimanded Lin for reading porn outside the Presidential Palace — a well-framed shot makes the central tower look like an erection — is in pursuit of three juvenile delinquents who’ve taken possession of a magical 4,000-year-old sword. Said blade instantly brings its holder to sexual climax.
Another renegade j.d. is Tam Hsiao-ying (Ginny Liu), a punked-out, stun-gun wielding former classmate of Lin’s, who’s taken to robbing convenience stores since Lin ignored her romantic overtures in high school.
In further testimony to the extent of Taiwan’s delinquent problem, a Japanese film crew trawls Taipei’s streets in an effort to publicly shame and then rehabilitate misguided youth. The leader of the crew, Ken (Michihisa Kaga), is a former yakuza who, in the process of his rescue mission, falls in love with Tam.
All of these sub-plots rollick along and, after the lead character of Lin is lost for almost a reel, humorously converge in the movie’s climax.
Su knows the value of well-rounded characters and in Lin, Cheng, Tam and (less successfully) Ken the comedy is aided by a sense of genuine compassion. Pacing is delirious and erratically structured, but film has the confidence sometimes to take time out to insert a witty aside.
Chinese popsters Wong, Chen and Liu give engaging, likeable perfs, and there’s the bonus of cameos from other Mandarin songbirds. Soundtrack is a lively concoction of Asian bubble gum from Chang Chen-yue and MC Hotdog. The vibrant opening credits testify to Su’s past experience with MTV Taiwan, and pic is adequately lensed and cleanly shot, without visual clutter.