Real estate plays a pivotal role in heaven and on earth in the occasionally absorbing Taiwanese meller “A Place of One’s Own.” Sincere criss-crosser, about a virtually homeless rock ‘n’ roller and a squatter who makes ornate paper houses hat people believe have power in the afterlife, pulls off the twin trick of honoring cultural superstitions while remaining rooted in the real world. Due for release in Taiwan later this year, the pic will find an international home largely in fest slots.
Once influential, cutting-edge musician Mozi (Mo Tzu-yi) not only is reduced to self-distributing his CDs at music stores, but also has been eclipsed by the success of his more mainstream, folk-oriented g.f. Kasey (Lu Chia-hsin). Kasey heeds her Svengali agent on all things, including her living arrangements, so she moves out, leaving Mozi squatting in their now empty apartment.
Elsewhere, in a more forested part of Taipei, Lin (Hou Hsiao-hsien vet Jack Kao) has a considerable rep as a maker of paper houses, which patrons commission as their ideal eternal living space. Despite many cashed-up and demanding clients — one, an anxious gangster, has paper guns placed in each room — Lin is under pressure from ruthless property developers to sell the land on which he squats. Given that he needs money for a cancer operation, his wife, Yue (Lu Yi-ching), and grown son, Gang (Tang Zhen-gang), can’t understand why he’d rather risk death than give up the land.
Apart from thematic concerns about securing safety in this world and the next, the two stories are narratively linked by computer gamer Gang, who enters the real estate profession and finds Mozi’s apartment in his portfolio. An additional subplot, connecting Yue with a protest movement by indigenous Taiwanese threatened with displacement, amplifies the fear of homelessness that haunts the pic.
Script by first-time helmer Ian Lou and producer Singing Chen — who previously collaborated on Chen’s “God Man Dog” — shuffles along with unhurried, functional helming. It’s considerably aided by the thesps, particularly Kao, who imbue their characters with a profound authenticity.
Music by Taiwan popster ShowyShowy (who also plays one of Mozi’s band members) convincingly augments the world of musicians trying to establish and protect their turf. A key kudo on the tech side goes to the masters who made the colorful and elaborate paper houses (objets d’art themselves) under the supervision of production designer Huang Mei-ching.
The rest of the technical package is pro by indie standards in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Chinese title means “a space for one person.”