If you enjoyed the award-winning debut feature of writer/director Arvin Chen’s Au Revoir Taipei from a couple of years back, then chances are you will like his second feature length venture from last year, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? The same quirky, rom-com qualities are reused here somewhat, but his growth as a director is noticeable as he continues to experiment with new elements in this latest film. Accompanied by a beautiful musical score by Wen Hsu (the same composer with whom Chen collaborated in his first film) and brilliantly acted by a star-studded cast from the Taiwanese/Chinese entertainment industry, this is at once a poignantly funny and a deeply contemplative film.
The film tells the contemporary tale of two siblings in middle class Taipei. Wei Chung (played by Taiwanese popstar Richie Jen) is a middle-aged-ish optical store manager who lives a quiet life with his son and wife, Feng (played by equally well-known Taiwanese popstar Mavis Fan), and his sister Mandy (Kimi Hsia), a travel agent who’s engaged to be married. All’s well at the start of the film, kicking off with Mandy’s engagement party; but pretty soon, things begin to fall apart when both siblings start doubting their life choices and decisions.
Facing the prospect of a long and monotonous married life ahead with a kind, reliable but boring man, San-San (played by guitarist Stone from the famous Taiwanese rock band Mayday), Mandy is beset by a sudden case of cold feet and calls the wedding off. Meanwhile, having opted to live the mainstream, traditional life of a straight married man, Wei Chung’s closeted and dormant homosexuality is rekindled by two chance encounters — one with Stephen (Lawrence Ko) an old friend from a gay social circle he left behind years ago, and the other with Thomas (Wong Ka-Lok), a handsome flight attendant from Hong Kong.
As in Chen’s previous work, WYSLMT is framed in the new dramatic style of modern Asian cinema, with a focus on urban milieus and an intimate look at the inner workings of modern family relationships (influences from Taiwanese director Edward Yang, under whom Chen worked, are discernible). It’s also not the first film to address gay issues in Taiwanese family settings, when one thinks about Ang Lee’s beloved gay wedding comedy drama from two decades past, The Wedding Banquet. That said, there’s a distinct albeit evolving signature style that is all Arvin Chen. In this film, classic Hollywood-inspired whimsical moments, like musical sequences and meet-cute scenes, as well as a character’s meltdown — here involving imaginary dialogue with South Korean soap opera actors — are creatively incorporated into a drama that is largely about coming to terms with one’s sexual orientation, an especially contentious social and individual issue in the Asian cultural context.
Infused with ironic and comedic scenes throughout, the tone and feel of the film is airy and light although the subject matter remains a sombre affair. As the film unfolds, both the storylines take serious turns in the exploration of identity and relationship issues concerning finding the balance between knowing what one truly wants, as opposed to what one believes one should want.
We see the timid Wei Chung (almost unrecognizable in this role from his public, stage persona) going through the motions of the daily grind, seemingly resigned to a stable but unfulfilling life, but who quietly struggles to keep the true nature of his sexual identity a secret from his wife. Setting aside the morality question of infidelity, the film offers the viewers a personal glimpse of what it might be like to be in Wei Chung’s shoes, as he juggles his existence in two contrasting worlds, one that underscores security and responsibility and another that speaks to his heart’s desires. As a viewer, you feel torn — we want to root for him as we watch his journey to self discovery, but at the same time we are aware that there’s a price his family, especially his wife, has to pay for the actualization of his personal freedom.
Should one sacrifice one’s real feelings for the sake of the well-being of the ones we love. or does being true to oneself trump all other priorities?
We follow Mandy’s pre-wedding jitter and tribulations with less trepidation, for though we can likely relate to the occasional debilitating anxieties of couplehood in the age of modern living, her dilemma is one that we can laugh along with and ultimately feel relieved about when she finally makes her decision. It is also in this storyline that we find some of the funniest scenes in the film.
Timely comic relief is provided when Mandy’s wedding planner and his mates get embroiled in her relationship problems.
And just to mix things up a little, beyond the funny bits lie a few insightful, heart-to-heart dialogues. My personal favorite is the scene in which Mandy seeks the counsel of her sister-in-law Feng to discuss the engagement hiatus. The heartwarming exchange between the two women, both in their own respective reveries, and each offering words of wisdom on what expectations and life plans mean, really hits home.
Some may think this is a niche film, because of the sensitive nature of the topic for Asian/Chinese audiences, and maybe it’s not for everyone. But Arvin Chen has created a film that brings about much-needed awareness on gay issues in Chinese communities in a way that would resonate with most people because in the end, WYSLMT is really about the right to have a choice and the chance, regardless of your background or sexual orientation, to figure out who you are, who you want to be and where you belong in society.