Director: Liao Ming-Yi
Cast: Nikki Hsieh, Austin Lin, Michael Chang, Aviis Zhong
Runtime: 1 hr 41 mins
Released By: mm2 Entertainment
Opening Day: 17 September 2020
Synopsis: Po-Ching is an OCD patient, with serious symptoms of mysophobia. He has been conditioned to the endless cleaning habits in his daily life. His “quirkiness” has also isolated him from the general public and people see him as a completely weirdo. Po- Ching goes out for daily needs shopping on the 15th of each month. Someday, he meets another weirdo Chen Ching. It is fate that made Po-Ching and Chen Ching to meet each other. They finally find another who is in the same boat. Their relationship is spotless and perfect. But everything becomes different when Po-Ching’s OCD disappears suddenly. In the world of love, we are each other’s weirdos. When the love is gone, I am not attracted to your quirkiness anymore.
Living with a younger brother with autism, I have a front-row seat to how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects his life. The term is used loosely these days for people who fuss over small discrepancies, say a slightly tilted photo frame or their colour-coordinated stationery, but for people like my brother, it is less a charming idiosyncratic habit than a real impedance in his lifestyle. Like getting up two hours earlier at 5am in the morning just so he can unpack and pack the bag he uses at work, carefully zipping and unzipping each pocket with meticulous rhythm.
I Weirdo dives into the unlikely love story of two individuals with not just OCD but mysophobia (fear of germs). Po-Ching (Austin Lin) is the plastic-wrapped, blue-gloved oddity in his life, until an unfortunate disruption forces him to another supermarket.
There, he meets Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh) in all her yellow raincoat glory, stealing chocolate bars and having the same robotic antics as he does. Inevitably the two fall in love, until one day when Po-Ching wakes up to find his OCD and mysophobia gone.
The second half of I Weirdo explores the tension when the two characters react differently to this dramatic shift. While one happily accepts his normality, the other desperately tries to trigger a relapse so that he won’t leave. I mean, what’s the chance of finding someone who can not only understand your flaws but accept them too?
The feature is a debut effort by Liao Ming-yi, who has performed keys roles in other films such as 2011’s You are the Apple of My Eye, and even At Cafe 6, which Lin also starred in. “In the past, I was an executive director, like a babysitter. I WeirDo is my first own work, from script to film completed (sic),” he says. But doing quad-duty as screenwriter, director, cinematographer, and edit director might have costed the movie some points.
Shot on an iPhone and painted in rich contrasting hues, I Weirdo has stylistic DNA and concepts, but not all of it suits the theme. While I understand the initial cropped mobile portrait aspect ratio opens up to a full 1.85:1 landscape to express the freedom of having found another, the application feels a little one-note.
The cinematographer and colour scheme seems to play up more on the quirkiness, which removes relatability for the two “odd” leads - something crucial when telling a love story. This gimmicky overtone is also evident in the overly repetitive stress on the habits themselves. There’s only that many repeated shots of house-cleaning and hand-washing we can take before becoming bored. We get it - they have OCD and mysophobia. And this awkward delivery may have had an effect on the couple - the two lack on-screen chemistry, even when they are walking perfectly in step and running away from germs.
The film palette, for all of its fantastical yearnings, becomes even more at odds when the movie steers into philosophical musings in the second half. Cheng Ching’s wistful thoughts sit awkwardly against the vibrant background - a visual disconnect that prevents a more satisfying gestation of her woes.
Thankfully, Lin compensates with a believable performance. He transitions from stoic to “normal” successfully, leveraging on his mannerisms and delivery to convey the change, with better responses to the situations. And although Hsieh doesn’t shine as much - an issue with her characterisation - the scene of her at the supermarket spotting regular Po-Ching is particularly moving.
I Weirdo would have benefited more from spending more time on the character conflicts. One of the biggest missed opportunities was how Liao could have created tension in the couple’s post-discovery lifestyle. With the OCD and mysophobia leading the first half, it turns into an obvious empty trope largely ignored afterwards. If Liao could have built up the disparity as intimately in the second half, the collapse of the relationship would have been more heartbreaking. Lin and Hsieh are talented in their own ways, and I would have enjoyed a deeper exploration from these two. It may have made the love story a little less coerced, and melded the theme more harmoniously.
At least, that would have been my prescription.
(The purposeful bright and quirky love story becomes awkward in the second portion when dealing with heavier topics, but decent performances keep this watchable)
Review by Morgan Awyong