Ma Yihang, PhD candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Taipei is the setting for Chen Junlin’s (Arvin Chen) Au Revoir Taipei (2010), a strangely romantic love story. Protagonist Xiao Kai (Yao Chunyao) wants to go to Paris to be with his girlfriend, Fei-fei, who is studying abroad. Each night Xiao Kai goes to a 24-hour bookstore, where he tries to teach himself French. There, he chances to meet Susie (Guo Caijie), a part-time bookstore employee. To earn plane fare to Paris, Xiao Kai agrees to carry – i.e. smuggle – a “small package” for Panther, (Gao Lingfeng) an underworld boss. But after Xiao Kai picks up the parcel he is pursued by a contingent of police and a group of glory-seeking young gangsters, all of whom are after the package. To get a line on Xiao Kai, the hoods kidnap Gao-gao (Jiang Kangzhe), his best friend – now Xiao Kai has to save Gao-gao while eluding the police. Xiao Kai and his new friend Susie race through the streets and alleyways of nocturnal Taipei, a step ahead of both cops and crooks, ducking and dodging, their tortuous path revealing another side of the metropolis after dark – the city is a like a book full of stories, page after page of footsteps, sounds, smells, and shadows.
The Chinese title, “A Page of Taipei,” is homonymous with “a night in Taipei.” The action takes place in ordinary corners of the city, showcasing the sights and rhythms of Taipei after dark: 24-hour businesses, steam-filled noodle stands, dimly-lit lanes, old-but-interesting hotels, deserted underpasses, women folk-dancing in a park, small temples hidden in alleyways… Awash in strange lights and shadows, these stories darkly reveal other stories and memories in the present moment. By day the city is often described as light and transparent, endowed with expectations of power, culture, and convenience. Conversely, in Au Revoir Taipei the urban environment becomes a place where emotions disappear and reappear. The “small package” Xiao Kai carries sets the film’s characters in motions, revealing anxieties and ideas. Each frustrated in various ways, these men pursue each other at the fractured edge of day and night, on the move, missing opportunities, the city’s darkness, gloom, and weird light reflecting their emotional orientations.
Owing to the broken narrative, the riddle of the small package – the film’s “central character” – is never fully answered. But the ending is magically absurd: A variety of city-dwellers dance in unison with Xiao Kai and Susie in the bookstore, a poetic complement to urban nightlife. And so the metaphor “a page of Taipei” doesn’t only allude to the “bookstore,” the film’s main setting – the director turns the Taipei cityscape into a “text,” revealing page after page of stories, all waiting to be read.