The whole is largely equal to the sum of its parts in “10+10,” a collection of 20 five-minute shorts by 10 established helmers and 10 emerging talents on the “uniqueness of Taiwan.” Interpreting the theme loosely, usually through a personal prism, with nationalism seldom coming into the equation, the works form a nice mix of social-historical satires, nostalgic visions, genre exercises and arty tone poems while smoothly gliding between playfulness and gravity. Impressive roster of names like Hou Hsiao Hsien, Wu Nien-jen, Wei Te-sheng and Chung Mong-hong ensure widespread fest play, but the project’s cultural specificity reps a commercial challenge.
Although “10+10” was commissioned to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival, almost all the helmers wisely steer clear of pretentious homages to film that would smack of belated aspirations to 2007’s Cannes omnibus “To Each His Own Cinema.” Choice of locations also feels unobtrusive and organic, rather than consciously picture-postcard.
Nostalgia casts a magic spell in the anthology’s best-conceived works, such as “A Grocery Called Forever,” from leading Taiwan New Wave scripter Wu, who lovingly captures the rundown charm of old homes and mom-and-pop stores through the story of an old lady (Li Hou Lu-yuan) devoted to her family business. In Chen Kuo-fu’s tender “The Debut,” a 15-year-old aspiring singer in 1968 has an uncanny encounter with a glamorous songstress; though the short is set entirely in a dressing room, the background score of mellow ’60s Chinese songs envelops one in retro glamour and, in a teasing final revelation, pays tribute to Taiwan’s most legendary singer.
The best of these nostalgic shorts is Rendy Hou Chi-jan’s “Green Island Serenade,” which re-creates a 1954 China Broadcasting Studio session of singer Chi Lu-hsiain (Chien Man-shu) crooning the titular song. The camera gracefully glides from the studio to reveal a man listening wistfully in a nearby park, and deftly segues into the present day, capturing the languid mood of a subtropical afternoon as well as a spirit of romantic longing.
Several entries engage with Taiwan’s identity and historical legacy from more overtly political or social angles, and manage to be both pithy and dramatic; these will understandably resonate more with those who have a working knowledge of contempo Chinese history. A movie crew needs to erase the Kuomintang national flag from a location shoot, with blackly comic results, in Cheng Yu-chieh’s “Unwritten Rules,” which drolly satirizes the concessions Taiwan’s film industry must make to tap into the mainland market.
Chang Tso-Chi’s stirring “Sparkles” recounts a violent episode little known to non-Chinese in 1949, when Taiwan’s Kinmen Island was under fire from mainland communist troops. Shot from the p.o.v. of a young girl caught in the crossfire on her way to get medical help for her mother in labor, the tight editing and nimble navigation around just a few alleys (with representative traditional architecture) convey tremendous urgency and peril, underscoring how Taiwan preserved her status quo by the skin of her teeth.
Less effective is Kevin Chu Yen-ping’s “The Orphans,” in which the B-movie king attempts to raise awareness of those Kuomintang officers and their descendants left stranded along the Cambodian-Burmese border, and denied Taiwanese citizenship, after the end of China’s civil war in 1949. Dramatizing this through the plight of a mentally challenged girl and a blind veteran with confusing crosscuts to corny battle scenes, the pic is tastelessly sensationalized and will baffle even a younger generation of Chinese, unless they grasp the context of the pic’s politically controversial theme song, “Asia’s Orphans” by Lo Da Yu.
The rest of the batch lean toward personal experiences, abstract mood pieces and genre-driven narrative entries. The strongest of the latter is Chen Yu-hsun’s “Hippocamp Hair Salon,” which, in its conception of a shampoo service that can rinse out undesirable memories, has a twisty echo of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” but is more macabre in its plotting.
Those shorts with a personal touch tend to lack a strong thematic voice and fall back on trivial situation comedy, such as Hsiao Ya-chuan’s “Something’s Gotta Give,” or student-film mannerisms, such as Leon Dai’s arty, incomprehensible “Key,” Ho Wi-ding’s tepid “100” or Yang Ya-che’s “The Singing Boy,” which is derivative of Taiwan sleeper “You Are the Apple of My Eye.” One exception is Arvin Chen’s “Lane 256,” which turns the prosaic situation of an engaged couple moving into a new apartment into a wry visualization of Taipei’s vibrant street life, using amusingly chaotic mise-en-scene and imaginative compositions.
One short that escapes categorization is Wei Te-sheng’s “Debut,” which is set moments before the Venice premiere of the helmer’s epic “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” and takes lead actor Lin Ching-tai as its subject. Expressing a humble attitude toward his acting experience in a simple yet eloquent monologue, Lin’s voice plays over a montage intercutting his daily life as a Christian pastor and woodcarver with scenes in which he plays a headhunting aboriginal chief fighting for his pagan beliefs. Wei’s merging of docu and fiction, art and ethnicity, routine life and epiphany yields moments of abstract poetry as well as engaging drama.
The greatest disappointment, unexpectedly, is the contribution from project executive producer Hou, whose “Belle Epoque” makes unspectacular use of the ravishing Shu Qi, playing a meek listener to her grandmother’s reminiscences about her lifelong habit of hoarding gold bars. The use of gold as a metaphor for the treasure of family heritage and the Chinese work ethic are woven into a string of soft-focus flashbacks shot in a shallow and conventional way, culminating in that most dog-eared image of family unity and history, the group portrait.
Tech credits overall are pro.