Film Review: “Love in Taipei” — A Beautiful Travelogue
By Sarah Osman
The fact is that Love in Taipei’s appeal principally lies in Taipei itself: the film doubles as an extended advertisement for the city.
The teen rom-com hasn’t died: it’s simply shifted to YA novels and streaming films. The good thing about this development: the bouncy films in this genre are far more diverse now than they were in the past. Of course, they remain as inevitably fluffy as ever. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – teen rom-coms are intended to be pure escapism. What is debatable — will any of the recent ones be as well remembered as the best rom-coms of yore?
The latest to join the recent wave is Love in Taipei, based on the novel Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen. Our heroine is Ever Wong (Ashley Liao), an Ohian bound for med school. Because she is one of the only Asian children in her small suburb, Ever’s Taiwanese parents decide she should learn more about her heritage. They surprise her with admission to a summer cultural immersion program in Taiwan, which Ever believes will be more classes and studying, like every other day of her life. She quickly learns that the other students treat the program as a “love boat,” aka they all just party and hook up with each other.
It wouldn’t be a rom-com without some romance and Ever has two suitors to pick from. The first, Boy Wonder (or Wonder Boy), aka Rick (Ross Butler), is a guy that Ever already knows – kind of (she’s familiar with all his achievements in World Magazine). The second, Xavier (Nico Hiraga), is a bad boy who is struggling to appease his strict father. Amid this tug-of-war, we found out that Ever doesn’t want to go to med school — that’s her parent’s dream. She wants to pursue a career in dance, so she decides to make a video for an audition to a New York dance company. Along with the two gentlemen callers, various hijinks are inspired by Ever’s quirky roommate Sophie (Chelsea Zhang, sadly underused) and her artist-crazy aunt (Cindy Cheung).
There is plenty of plot, but the fact is that Love in Taipei’s appeal principally lies in Taipei itself: the film doubles as an extended advertisement for the city. And I was sold: the cinematography is stunning and small adventures, such as Ever and Rick’s culinary tour of Taipei, made me want to set out for a night market immediately. There are also plenty of endearing moments among the characters; Ever is given a fantabulous makeover from Sophie, she makes a grand appearance at a fancy party, and she has several heart-to-hearts with her aunt. So, on an elemental level, Love in Taipei is pleasant to watch. It’s a bit like taking a weekend getaway to a resort where you are expected to do nothing but relax.
But, unlike the best rom-coms, this one lacks bite. I have not read Loveboat, Taipei, but it turns out novelist Wen (Executive Producer on the film) and director Arvin Chen made a few significant changes. For one, Ever and her pals are 17-18 in the book, and that makes sense considering the program’s strict 10 p.m. curfew. (It’s a bit odd that, in the film, 21-year-olds have to sneak out). Also, many of the film’s themes — finding yourself, standing up to your parents, etc. — would be better suited to a student who just graduated high school versus one who is going off to college. (This is not to say there is a set timeline for these sorts of things — it just doesn’t quite work in the context of this film.) What’s more, Ever’s struggle is told rather than shown to us. Compounding that problem: the protagonist comes across as too perfect, and that flattens out Ever’s character arc. And that is a shame because, based on the few scenes where the actress is forced to grapple with a challenge, the talented Liao suggests that she could easily have played a more complex heroine.
Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman