A big-hearted let’s-put-on-a-show comedy centered on a despondent musician who gets his mojo back with a band of eccentric amateurs in his provincial hometown, “Cape No. 7” reps a promising debut by Taiwanese helmer Wei Te-sheng. After a slow start on Aug. 22 domestic release, pic has become one of the most successful Taiwanese films ever, with a gross exceeding NT$400 million ($12 million). Announced as Taiwan’s foreign-language film Oscar submission, this charmer has remake potential and strong regional prospects, though chances of a big bust-out in Western markets look slim.
Downcast after failing to crack the Taipei music scene, Aga (pop singer Van Fan, credited as Van) returns to the coastal town of Hangchun and takes a job as a postman. Everyone else in the picturesque tourist destination buzzes with excitement when it’s announced that a local band will be recruited to play as curtain-raiser at an outdoor concert headlining (real-life) Japanese pop star Kousuke Atari.
Hilariously in charge of arrangements is Aga’s stepfather, “Mr. Representative” (Ma Ju-lung), a motor-mouthed council official who wants Aga to lead the support act to glory. It’s only a matter of time before Aga steps up to the microphone, but not before a funny run through the time-honored audition sequence.
The lovable oddballs eventually gathered around Aga include drummer Frog (Ying Wei-man), an excitable motorcyle mechanic; Uncle Mao (Johnny C.J. Lin), an 80-year-old postman who swaps his gekkin (traditional Chinese lute) for an electric bass guitar; and Dada (Joanne), a 10-year-old keyboard player from the church band who insists on finishing every song with an “amen.”
Pic hums along nicely with the band’s creative squabbles and personal dramas en route to inevitable triumph at the big gig. Giving a large and mostly inexperienced cast plenty of room for boisterous thesping while keeping a tight rein on any overkill, Wei shows real flair for comedy and underpins the fun with compassion for the disappointments and loneliness hidden inside many of the characters.
Less engaging is a 1945-set wrap-around love story intended to light a halo around Aga’s romance with Tomoko (Chie Tanaka), a Mandarin-speaking Japanese ex-model; the attempt to draw poetic parallels across time zones is hampered by the mechanical nature of Aga and Tomoko’s cross-cultural attraction.
Colorful production design and costuming look terrific in widescreen, and lenser Chin Ding-chang’s coverage of Hengchun won’t harm the tourist trade. Peppy score and catchy concert songs keep the toes tapping. Other technical work is solid.
In a surprise development, considering that the romance between a Taiwanese and a Japanese during Japan’s period of occupation could easily constitute grounds for banning the film on the Chinese mainland, pic was approved for exhibition there early November. China Film Group will handle disribution.