I love that for some reason, we’re being blessed with a ton of rom-coms this fall season. Love in Taipei, based on the YA coming of age novel by Abigail Hing Wen, is Paramount Plus’ contribution. From the same producers as XO, Kitty, the movie follows Ever Wong (Ashley Liao), an American young woman who goes to Taiwan for a summer programme. She initially dreads having to spend her break in summer school, but quickly learns that many of the students actually look forward to attending what they call ‘the loveboat’.
Ever’s parents have spent her entire life preparing her for medical school, but that’s not what she wants. However, it’s difficult to articulate this to her parents, who have given up so much so that she could have a better life in America. She meets Rick (Ross Butler), fondly known as Wonder Boy, who’s apparently perfect and good at everything. But he too is struggling under the weight of familial expectations. Then there’s also artist Xavier (Nico Hiraga), who catches Ever dancing by herself on top of the roof, and makes it a point to always speak to her when he gets the chance.
From the poster alone, we know there’s some seeming love triangle between Ever and these two men, but the movie never helps us understand why any of these people are attracted to each other. Ever and Rick are having all these cute foodie dates, but they feel more platonic than romantic. It pains me to say this, but the movie fails to build proper romantic chemistry between the two. Romantic chemistry needs more effort than mere smiling at each other from across the room, or throwing flour at each other during cooking class. It’s performative romantic chemistry, rather than anything real and genuine.
The chemistry between Ever and Xavier is slightly better, but the movie devotes so little space to their relationship that it makes it hard for viewers to care about any sort of development. The pair actually get the sexiest romantic set piece in the entire movie, a scene that is shot really well, and it feels utterly wasted because of how underdeveloped their relationship is. The best relationship in this movie isn’t even a romantic one, it’s Ever’s relationship with her Aunt Shu (Cindy Cheung). Aunt Shu owns a art gallery space, and encourages Ever to live her life in the now, instead of obsessing about what her future is supposed to be like.
Every character in this movie is written with broad strokes, and choosing to have Ever narrate through the entire story doesn’t help its cause at all. The narration is used to feed us her character motivation, instead of allowing the narrative and interactions with other characters to tell us the story.
The movie also doesn’t use its setting as well as it should. Most of the film is spent indoors, and it’s only later on when Ever walks back to school after a night of monsoon weather that we get some really great shots of Taiwan. But at this point it feels a little too late. I’m glad that this trip helps Ever to take charge of her life, I just wish Love in Taipei did more to keep the viewer invested in her story.
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On paper Love in Taipei has everything going for it. The execution of these ingredients however feel fairly underwhelming.
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