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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Revenge of the Factory Woman 與愛別離

Revenge of the Factory Woman

By Derek Elley
Mon, 03 October 2011, 09:15 AM (HKT)

Simple but impressive drama set in '70s Taiwan, with lucid direction and acting. Beyond festivals, largely niche TV


Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, 1978. Yen Yu-hua (Peggy Tseng), a young woman from a modest background, works on a production line in a factory in the port city's Export Processing Zone. The production supervisor, Chi Kuo-wei (Yin Chao-te), is also her boyfriend. One night, he proposes to her, and she accepts. Her best friend, Tseng Shun-fang (Chou Heng-yin), whose father (Yeh Teng-yuan) owns the factory, seems delighted for them both; but underneath she realises she also secretly loves Kuo-wei. Kuo-wei and Yu-hua settle into what seems a perfect marriage. However, one evening, alone at the factory by chance, Kuo-wei and Shun-fang share a moment together. Later, Yu-hua tells Kuo-wei that she's pregnant. But then Shun-fang, whose father wants to marry her off to a business colleague, tells Kuo-wei that she is pregnant too. Overhearing their conversation, Yu-hua is devastated and leaves Kuo-wei, as well as publically disclosing his adultery with Shun-fang. Shamed by the incident, Shun-fang's father tries to force her to have an abortion, further precipitating events.


A simple story, simply told, writer-director Gavin LIN 林孝謙's second feature is an impressive achievement that has a quite different feel from most movies by young Taiwanese film-makers who are either more interested in scoring intellectual points or more focused on narrow, local subject matter. Partly recalling the classic style of '60s Taiwan cinema by directors like LEE Hsing 李行 (though without those films' underlying nationalism), but more particularly the "pure", ingenuous dramas of '80s director CHEN Kun-hou 陳坤厚 (The Matrimony 結婚 (1985)), Revenge of the Factory Woman 與愛別離 references many of the conventions of Asian melodrama without either condescending to them or trying for some kind of post-modern reinterpretation. Lin and co-writer Hermes Lü (呂鑨謚) believe in their characters and don't judge them — even the more conservative older generation — and, after what seems like a beautifully composed but uninvolving first hour, this approach pays off emotionally as the bonds of family and friendship re-assert themselves in interesting ways.
Though a tad more formally composed than his first feature, youth romance In Case of Love 街角的小王子, the film has a similarly easy style pitched between arthouse and mainstream, with attractively clean visuals by d.p. Mahua FENG 馮信華 (who also shot Rendy HOU 侯季然's '70s-set episode in Juliets 茱麗葉) and a simple, melodious score by composer Justin CHEN 陳忠義 that matches the sentiments on display. As in Love, Lin seems to have a natural feel — way beyond his years and experience — for when to hold a close-up, when to cut away, and how to blend contrasting elements into a smooth viewing experience. Even when little is actually happening on screen, Lin keeps the viewer interested in his characters.
None of this, however, would have worked without the cast, which features no star names but handpicked actors in each role. Actress-model Peggy TSENG 曾珮瑜 is far better employed here than in the vacuous Honey PuPu 消失打看, playing the demure and uncomplicated factory girl Yu-hua with a believable innocence that's matched by the sympathetic YIN Chao-te 尹昭德 (The Red Lotus Society 飛俠阿達 (1994)) as her errant husband Kuo-wei. However, the revelation of the movie is CHOU Heng-yin 周姮吟, 21, as Yu-hua's best friend, spoiled rich kid Shun-fang.
Recalling a younger René Liu, Chou was previously best known for playing the sexy mistress in CHO Li 卓立's Rear Window-like drama, Zoom Hunting 獵豔, but here gets her first real chance to strut her stuff. Even during the opening 25 minutes, when the story is technically centred on the romance and marriage between Kuo-wei and Yu-hua, it's Chou's calculatedly fey performance as the friend-in-the-middle that holds the attention and maintains a sense of edge, of impending drama, when not much is going on apart from character exposition. Though Shun-fang, like Kuo-wei, is never vilified, it's still to the credit of Chou that she's able to make the "other woman" role so rounded and, ultimately, sympathetic.
The gambit by Lin and Lü of leaving the plot's major twist until so late in the game initially seems to unbalance the movie. With enough happening in the final 20 minutes to fuel another hour of drama, the texture of the movie seems to thicken unnaturally after the spacious and lucid feel of the preceding hour. In fact, this compressed finale, which blends flashbacks with the present, brings the film to a very moving close just when it looked as if there would be no major emotional pay-off.
The period look for late '70s Kaohsiung looks well-researched but a little stiff. English subtitles are fine, except for the silly decision to give the main characters western names like "Gordon", "Yvonne", "Sophie" and "Jamie" that's both unnecessary and distracting. The film's dramatic English title doesn't really reflect the tone of the movie, though it's better than the original one, A Departure from Love. The Chinese literally means Taking Leave of Love.

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