Comedian Shangguan Didi (Dee Hsu) makes a middling living out of appearances on stunt and gag-based comedy television shows, while being estranged from her much more successful actress sister Lingling (Lin Chi-ling). Didi’s first big chance at success comes when a producer offers to cast her in a period drama opposite her sister – but a coincidental health crisis puts her aspirations at risk.
Didi’s Dream is a motion picture showcase for real-life Taiwanese television presenter Dee Hsu, whose variety shows have been a mainstream success in both Taiwan and China. That may be one explanation for why the resulting film is such an incoherent and troublesome mess. Writer/director Kevin Tsai throws pretty much any popular genre, stereotype, style and aesthetic that is successful in Chinese popular culture and throws it against the metaphorical wall. He creates, in effect, a fictional variety show that enables his star to essentially do precisely what she has done on television – only in a filmic context instead. Perhaps we should take it as one big audition tape to sell Hsu for future romantic comedies, slapstick farces, or melodramas. Perhaps these future films can attack the clichés one at a time and give themselves room to breathe.
Certainly, on its own merits, Didi’s Dream is a nonsensical and tedious disaster. It is always possible to trade in stereotype; after all, things only become over-used in fiction because at some early stage they were tremendously effective. A new context, or point of view, can sometimes re-invigorate an idea and give it a fresh slant. Here nothing feels fresh. It simply feels like a weak greatest hits package performed not by artists but by their tribute band. It is reheated and profoundly lazy stuff, feeling both unenthused and rushed.
To her credit, Hsu does show a certain level of screen presence, and there is a visible potential for her as a comedic actor. That potential is betrayed by a screenplay that diagnoses Didi with a terminal illness in the opening act, leaving the maudlin spectre of death hanging over every comedy bit or joke for the remaining hour. One wonders if the indulgence in such strained developments is actually one of the jokes; this turns out to be wishful thinking. The casting of popular fashion model Lin feels like a stunt. She may provide the film with an attractive face, but she is not skilled enough of an actor to make any of her scenes convincing. The core conflict between the sisters is compromised enough by poor dialogue, and Lin’s weak performance strikes the killing blow. Jim Shijia is appealing as Didi’s determined and patient boyfriend, but it is a relatively weak part to play.
The one intriguing aspect of the entire film is also, maddeningly, its most redundant. It begins with Hsu in the role of Xu Chunmei, the owner of an interplanetary noodle house whose soup flavour changes automatically based on Xu’s mood. Brightly designed and charmingly silly, it is soon revealed as a recurring dream experienced each night by Didi. A last-minute attempt to connect these vignettes to the main action is a failure, but the scenes in isolation are more enjoyable than anything else the film offers. Had Hsu starred in a space soup comedy, it just might have been unusual enough to form an entertaining film. Incorporated here, it’s largely unnecessary. Watch it if you are keen, but from scene one Didi’s Dream is wasting your time.