Three short films by three Taiwanese directors take the character of Shakespeare's most famous heroine in different, equally post-feminist directions in "Juliets."
Three short films by three Taiwanese directors take the character of Shakespeare’s most famous heroine in different, equally post-feminist directions in “Juliets.” Besides the character’s name, the color red and a vague relationship to the Bard’s perennial, the films have little in common. Yet they complement each other nicely, maintaining a satisfying tonal and temporal progression, from Hou Chi-jan’s bittersweet period tale of betrayals and misunderstandings to Shen Ko-shang’s slyly time-shifting reversals of meller conventions to Chen Yu-hsun’s contempo gay farce. Yet despite the manifest appeal of this omnibus pic, commercial prospects appear iffy, pending further discovery of its thesps and/or auteurs.
Hou’s “Juliet’s Choice,” set in martial law-ruled Formosa in the 1970s, concerns a crippled Juliet (pop idol Vivian Hsu, cast against type as a shy shut-in) working in her uncle’s printing shop. She falls for handsome student Rom (Wang Po-chieh), agreeing to clandestinely print his Marxist tract. What separates the duo here is class identity, neither knowing how the other half lives. While Rom and his jeans-clad friends play guitars and plot revolutions on campus, Juliet’s dreamy manner and romantic dress, as she painfully makes her way on crutches, hark back to an earlier era: Hou’s atmospheric depiction of her immediate neighborhood, with its narrow alleys under heavy rain, recalls the ’60s Hong Kong of Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love.”
Shen’s striking “Two Juliets” ranks as the longest and most accomplished entry in the anthology, marked by strong characterizations and a fully thought-out aesthetic. As its title indicates, it features two heroines, one in the past, the other in the present, both played by the same actress (Lee Chien-na, awarded best newcomer at Taiwan’s Golden Horse awards for her dual perf). Recovering from a romantic breakup and failed suicide, modern-day taxi driver Juliet picks up a middle-aged fare and drives him to a mental hospital, where he breaks down and relates a sob story about the other Juliet.
These flashbacks prove the closest in plot to Shakespeare’s original text, as the love between sexy chanteuse Juliet, the headliner of a traveling show, and her Romeo (River Huang), the troupe’s puppeteer, leads to latenight trysts in a ghost-haunted madhouse. But their relationship is opposed by Juliet’s gangsterish family, which forces the young man to leave Taiwan. He swears to return and she feigns insanity, awaiting him in an asylum. Getting absorbed in his plight, modern cabbie Juliet discovers an intriguing twist that recasts the sad, abandoned Juliet in a different light, allowing her to jauntily rethink her own lover’s abandonment.
In Chen’s waggish “One More Juliet,” a plump, gay male Juliet (TV personality Kang Kang) attempts suicide in the woods on his 40th birthday, interrupted by an assistant director’s request that he step out of the frame, as a commercial is being shot there. Offered a job as an extra, he soon finds himself in love, wearing red Spandex underwear and prancing around in an improvised dance with a bunch of other similarly clad, clueless amateurs in a joyous sendup of the world of advertising; the commercial’s sponsor-despising director is a satiric self-portrait of Chen, a vet ad helmer.
Directed by Hou Chi-jan. Screenplay, Hou, Yang Yuan-ling. Camera (color), Mashua Feng; music, Han Cheng-yieh; production designer, Tsai Pei-ling.
With: Vivan Hsu, Wang Po-chieh.
Directed by Shen Ko-shang. Screenplay, Shen, Lu Hsin-chih. Camera (color), Tao Chien; music, pigheadskin; production designer, Tan Chia-hung.
With: Lee Chien-na, River Huang.
One More Juliet
Directed, written by Chen Yu-hsun. Camera (color), Chen Chien-li; music, Chris Hou; production designer, Chen Ming-huei.
With: Kang Kang, Liang He-chun.