A lovestruck young taxi driver does everything except somersault his car to court a cute traffic cop in “The Cabbie,” a delightfully out-there romantic comedy full of low-key charm and humor. As with “The Personals” a couple of years ago, pic shows that Taiwanese cinema still has the occasional ability to offer an entertaining movie that straddles the deep divide between commercial and high-art fare, and this one could motor on to modest sales beyond festivals. Pic performed creditably on local release last year.
Starting off with the familiar idea of the cabbie as everyone’s anonymous confidant (also used in Ning Ying’s recent “I Love Beijing”), the movie soon develops into a sometimes macabre, straight-faced comedy as the family of young driver Su Da-chuan (Chu Chung-heng) is introduced. Mom (Cheng Hsiu-ying) is a coroner who keeps a pickled head in her office, sis (Tsai Tsan-de) cooks up exotic drugs in the back room, and dad (Cheung Ka-nin), who owns the Taipei cab company, treats the regular pileups at the intersection outside almost as a spectator sport.
Pic moseys along for a while as a collection of small incidents, narrated in v.o. by Su — some of which are genuinely amusing (such as rushing a pregnant woman to hospital), others simply OK. Just when the movie is beginning to wear out its welcome, the main plot clicks into gear, as Su, ticketed by the stern young Chuang Ching-wen (Japanese thesp Rie Miyazawa) for speeding, decides to woo her by any means possible. This involves an obscene number of further tickets until her resistance finally breaks down.
Movie reps a curious helming partnership between Chang Hwa-kun, a producer of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s earlier films here debuting as a director, and Chen Yi-wen, a former assistant to Edward Yang who’s best known for his first feature, “Jam” (1997). Result is a very self-aware pic, peppered with cinematic techniques — at a dinner scene, film fast-forwards through “the boring bits” — and featuring an unsuitable rap score, but its gentle humor is finally winning.
Clearly cast for the overseas market, Miyazawa, in her first feature in seven years after a spell in Japanese TV drama, is very good as the ice-maiden cop, despite being obviously dubbed into Mandarin. Chu gives the cabbie plenty of boyish charm, and other roles are acutely played. Technical credits are first rate.