Cast: Jao Cincin, Liu Kuan-Ting, Na Dow, Samantha Ko, Wu Chien-Ho
Official Selection, 2018 Berlin International Film Festival
Opening Night Film, 2018 Hong Kong International Film Festival
Xiao Mei is a young drug addict. She has a sweet boyfriend, clocks into her job, and after damage from drug use, wears diapers. (The diapers don’t bother anyone, really.) She’s also gone missing. With the structure and flair of Rashomon and Citizen Kane, Maren Hwang’s feature debut evokes the mystery of nailing a person’s core while questioning cinema’s inherent unreliability. But rather than formal gravity, Hwang harnesses high style and a trail of genre-flavored bread crumbs to circle the poignant cipher at the center.
The film’s camera and mysterious offscreen narrator (Great Buddha+ director Huang Hsin-yao) interview nine offbeat characters adjacent to Xiao Mei in the impossible task of finding out who and where she might be. Their narratives form a container around her absence, and bring us the odd nooks and crannies of a variegated Taiwan. A hilariously self-absorbed landlord, a half-brother shoved to the side of an alleyway restaurant, boyfriends on delivery scooters, a sympathetic boss in a cramped dress shop. A coastal mystic. Xiao Mei’s phantom threads through these segments, coaxing us to continue forward as she seems to spiral downward.
“How much do you really know someone?” is frequently asked after a private world seems to publicly erupt out of nowhere. In his film, Maren Hwang responds with “Who gets to decide?” including boldly turning that question back onto the creator of Xiao Mei and XIAO MEI, himself.
– Christina Ree
* All Taiwan Film Showcase screenings at UCSD are free for UCSD staff, faculty, and students.