With undeniable charm and plot developments that manage to surprise despite preconceived notions, Love in Taipei is a lovely adaptation of the best-selling novel Loveboat, Taipei by author Abigail Hing Wen. Directed by Arvin Chen and starring Ross Butler and Ashley Liao, the film’s sweet center and vibrant locations withstand the inevitable cliches.
Lioa stars as Ever Wong, a young woman who is about to start her pre-med program in the fall, encouraged by her parents. However, her summer is derailed when they surprise her with a trip to Taipei for a cultural immersion program. What she believes will be a stiff and educational endeavor turns out to be more of a vacation for the soul, the trip dubbed “Loveboat” due to the partying and hookups that take place amongst the participants. Instead of burying her nose in textbooks, she is able to explore the art, food, and culture of Taipei, as she learns to discover what it is she wants from life. As she secretly seeks to audition for a New York City-based dance company and grapples with two possible suitors, the city around her breathes life into her summer and offers possibilities she couldn’t have found anywhere else.
There’s an immediate sense of cynicism when the film starts, especially once we realize there will be two potential love interests as well as a passion Ever would rather be pursuing, other than medicine. Assuming where the story will lead ends up benefitting the film, as it doesn’t adhere to all expectations, instead playing with cliches and tropes while allowing for a more natural evolution of the story. Ever doesn’t end her summer trip a completely changed person and not all of her problems have been solved. But Love in Taipei discovers warmth and wisdom by allowing her growth to develop naturally as she realizes that she’s allowed to still be in the process of discovering what it is she really wants.
That her story and relationship with familial expectations take up the majority of the film means that the love stories take a backseat. Lynch as golden boy Rick Woo is charismatic as ever though, and Nico Hiraga as the rebellious and artistic Xavier brings a necessary offbeat personality to the film. While the characters are all decently fleshed out aside from some plots regarding both Rick and Xavier’s families which remain unresolved, the real spark of the film that allows the story to transcend the simplistic structure is the landscapes and natural settings the film is shot in.
There’s no reason for Love in Taipei to look as good as it does, yet it flourishes with big moments by emphasizing the emotions with bold visuals. A confession and realization take place in the hollowed back alleyways, a typhoon following the characters home. The camera pulls back to watch as Ever pirouettes on a bridge, her suitor behind her as she takes those elongated, graceful steps, highlighting the freedom she feels in her movements.
Even the use of colors, especially the abundance of red in a pivotal third-act scene, seems bolder. Between the cinematography that utilizes the natural beauty of the locations, to soundscapes that capture the bustle of the city versus the natural ambiance while engrossed in nature, the film understands how to adapt a book onto the visual landscape. That, plus the soundtrack packed to the brim with modern and classical Taiwanese artists from Amber An and Lily Chao to Troutfresh emboldens the story with a lived-in sense of vibrancy and authenticity.
Not everything works, however. The script stumbles in key plot developments, especially one which forces the writing to dumb down Ever’s character for the sake of a pivotal dramatic moment. The moment is clearly telegraphed and we see it happening but it doesn’t stop both the sensation of witnessing a slow-motion crash and the feeling that the writers could’ve come up with a clever way to reach the same conclusion.
That said, this coming-of-age story is sweet despite the clumsy elements that forcibly place our characters in new directions. Love in Taipei exceeds expectations due to the loving amount of care put into bringing Taipei to life through the abundance of cultural touchstones and artistry. With charismatic actors and a lush, beautifully captured setting, the film is a welcome addition to the genre and one that refuses to forgo personal character growth for the sake of romance.
Love in Taipei
Love in Taipei exceeds expectations due to the loving amount of care put into bringing Taipei to life through the abundance of cultural touchstones and artistry. With charismatic actors and a lush, beautifully captured setting, the film is a welcome addition to the genre and one that refuses to forgo personal character growth for the sake of romance.