Taipei Exchanges is a wonderful movie set in Taipei that explores the theme of the value of things. In a city where capitalism and money dominate daily life, the movie imagines an alternative of barter, storytelling and dreaming. The story begins with Doris who opens an cafe with her sister Josie. In the beginning, Doris is business minded while Josie ismore idealistic. However the process of trading things not for their monetary value but for their meaning slowly transforms Doris. The event eventually changed the sisters' values and intuitions.
What is the value of our possessions? In an era where our possessions end up reflecting what we want rather than what we need, how much do we really treasure what we want when we finally manage to get our hands on them? And for how long do we value these possessions? It is very rare you see a movie that moves you and then gets you thinking- often it is the other way round- but this is exactly the kind of movie the exquisitely beautiful “Taipei Exchanges” is.
Executive produced by acclaimed filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien, it is set around a café that Doris (Kwai Lun-Mei) opens with her sister Josie (Zaizai Lin). Besides the coffee and desserts, there’s something unique about their café. Here, not only can customers sit, sip and chit chat, they can also bring home a little piece of something- provided they have something of their own to exchange it with. It does make sense if you think about it- after all, if we can’t have everything we want in the world, we can always exchange what we have with others.
But often a possession isn’t simply just that- it is also a part of our past, a part of our memories and a part of us. So when we exchange something of ours with others, we are also giving up a part of our life along with it. Yet at the end of the day, possessions still have a value attached to them, and so as long as we find something we regard to be of equivalent value, we’re likely to make that trade. The deeper message that writer/director Hsiao Ya-Chuan tries to impress on his audience is this- if there is one thing we shouldn’t exchange, that would be our dreams.
These are reflected in the personal ambitions of Doris and Josie, as revealed poignantly by way of a story that Josie tells to some customers in exchange for an item Doris wants from one of them. Doris has always been the pragmatic older sister, yearning for the kind of carefree life that she thinks her sister Josie had- especially the freedom to travel the world. She consoles herself by telling herself that she has fulfilled her dream of opening her own café- though it often isn’t adequate.
A man who brings 35 bars of soap and tells her a story of one of them each time he comes becomes an unexpected catalyst for Doris to reflect on her life- the places she hopes to visit and the experiences she hopes to have. The title of the movie derives from this last untold story and to tell you anything more is to spoil its significance for you. The meaning of this encounter takes a surprisingly poignant turn towards the end of the film. It is particularly telling in its depiction of how we often try to live our dreams vicariously through the experiences of others, even though we find out later that it is a weak and flimsy substitute.
As if to remind his audience that these lessons in the movie reflect the realities of the lives of many out there, Hsiao also inserts montages of interviews with people on the street of their own aspirations, and their life choices. These add a nice touch to the whimsical tone of the film, a movie that appears candy-coated on the surface but reflects a deeper significance throughout. Indeed, there’s no denying that the film looks absolutely gorgeous throughout thanks to Lin Tse-Chung’s beautiful cinematography and Lee Tung Kang’s intricate production design.
Not to forget of course the delightful score by Ho Zhi-Jian and Summer Lei that adds a sometimes melancholic, sometimes optimistic but always elegant note to the proceedings. The same can also be said of the film that, throughout its 82-min runtime, takes you on a pleasant and charming journey of rumination on the value of our possessions and the importance of pursuing our dreams. Like this reviewer said earlier, for being able to move you and then make you think about these things in life, “Taipei Exchanges” is one exceptional movie you shouldn’t miss.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
A series of featurettes make up “The Making of” in this film, including interviews with Kwai Lun-Mei and Zaizai Lin about their characters, writer/director Hsiao about his inspiration for the movie, the set design of the café, and also the difficulties in outdoor location shooting to get the pretty sights you see in the movie. There’s also a trailer and the music video included.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 makes surprisingly good use of the back speakers to make the overall experience of watching this movie even more mesmerising. Visual transfer is also excellent, and the movie looks sharp and colourful throughout.
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 15 October 2010