Adopting a loose, playful style quite distinct from the poised minimalism of Hou Hsiao-hsien, for whom he worked as assistant director on “Flowers of Shanghai,” Taiwanese newcomer Hsiao Ya-chuan delivers an unassuming but absorbing reflection on destiny and inheritance, fate and chance in “Mirror Image.” Stylishly shot from low angles and coolly detached distances, the concise, wispy drama has more breadth than its principal setting within the hermetic confines of a pawnshop would suggest. Festivals with a taste for offbeat new Asian cinema would appear its most likely avenue.
When the lifeline on his hand was erased in a motorcycle accident, Tung-ching (Lee Jiunn-jye) learned from a nurse that his life would no longer be ruled by fate but by an unmapped path of random circumstances. True to the prediction, he soon finds himself assuming a different direction. When his father is hospitalized after a mild stroke, Tung-ching is forced to put his career as a web designer on hold and take over running the family’s pawnshop. The steady stream of people in need who call as customers gives him pause for thought, while his girlfriend Eiko (Fan Hsiao-fan) remains more cynically indifferent.
As they goof off in the store all day, Eiko hatches a plan to indulge her natural curiosity and fascination with palmistry, suggesting they dispense with asking for customer identification and take handprints instead. Through a local cop, she obtains copies of Tung-ching’s prints taken before the accident. But having accepted his release from the hand of fate as a gift of freedom and unpredictability, Tung-ching is uninterested in pondering his future. Instead, he develops an odd relationship with a female customer (Era Wang), whom he enigmatically dubs “I know.”
Unfolding in short, spare scenes to the meandering rhythms of Hou Chih-chieh’s lazy, jazzy score and punctuated by palmistry and zodiac symbols identifying character traits, the drama is stimulating without ever being entirely lucid or illuminating. Despite the film’s limitations, however, writer-director Hsiao and his cast inject a fresh, relaxed appeal. Shooting entirely in interiors aside from the closing sequence in which the camera slowly pulls back outside the pawnshop, lenser Lin Tse-chung’s cool compositions make it visually interesting.