The Personals

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The Personals

Certain conceits tend to be more tolerable in foreign films than they would be in their American counterparts, simply by virtue of their unfamiliar setting, but that's not the case with the Taiwanese film The Personals. Writer-director Chen Kuo-fu (working from a story by Chen Shih-chieh) establishes a scenario that's as strained in Asian cinema as it would be if some fledgling Amer-indie filmmaker tried to peddle it. Rene Liu stars as an ophthalmologist who quits her job so she can dedicate herself to handling responses to her personal ad. She meets with eligible men at a teahouse one by one and listens to their pitches, which gives Kuo-fu a chance to trot out an endless line of one-joke characters for, essentially, five-minute comedy sketches. Many of the prospective husbands either want to sell Liu something—or, in the case of the head of an escort service, just want to sell Liu. A few save their creepiness for intense obsessions with certain foods, or with pinball. The parade of quirky folks rapidly grows tiresome, largely because Kuo-fu cues the audience to regard Liu's suitors with little more than mockery. All that keeps the narrative from sinking entirely is Liu's winning portrayal of a cautious woman taking a curious chance, and the reason she takes it; recovering from a collapsed love affair, she's half-hoping her ex will be one of the men answering her ad, or will at least wander into the place they used to meet and see her with another. Her stung demeanor and shy smile give The Personals a little bit of nuance. The rest of the load should have been carried by the depiction of modern Taipei, but even though Kuo-fu tries to dazzle with flashy, temporally loose editing, it's hard to escape the fact that he spends so much time in the teahouse that the movie could really be taking place anywhere. Inside, the air is filled with suffocating fluff.

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