IWeirDo (Taiwan, 2020) [NYAFF 2020]

IWeirDo begins on a visually unusual note. Its starkly narrowed framing resembles the umpteen number of smartphone videos floating online, created by social media users today. Squeaky clear and very uncinematic to look at, it got this reviewer thinking whether the title is a hashtag identifier. A basic twitter search reveals #iweirdo is an intermittently used one, since at least 2010. But nearly mid-way through the film, when the protagonist Chen Po-ching (Austin Lin) watches a pigeon perched on his garden wall, he slowly opens his home front door, his fingers gently pushing against it. His action widens the compressed frame to the regular rectangular filmic aspect ratio. Writer-director Liao Ming-yi’s subtle visual trick works perfectly as he announces IWeirDo is not merely casual user generated social media content, even though he uses the iPhoneXS as his only camera for shooting his directorial debut.

Po-ching, who is seeming in his early-thirties, is diagnosed with mysophobia, which is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but very pertinently his doctor reminds him it is a psychological problem. Just as he has turned this OCD switch on, only he can turn it off to move to leading a normal, healthy life. Often, an incident can be the requisite trigger for this change. Enter the trigger in the form of Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh) who rouses Po-ching’s interest as soon as he spots her during his precisely timed grocery store trip. He is in full PPE gear and while Ching is also masked and gloved, she is covered up in a bright yellow raincoat. A physical medical condition has caged her indoors and she can only stay out for a maximum of three hours before her severe skin allergy gets full blown activated. Unlike Po-ching, her lifestyle is imposed on her, and as her doctor advises it is best she stay indoors except for her mandatory errands run. This has left her mentally askew.

Wondering what his trigger to freedom will be, Po-ching longs to have a normal life free of OCD while Ching, no matter how much she wishes, simply cannot think of a regular life. Her yellow coat screams for attention from others, for her to be with others, to no avail. Even as Liao positions them in permanently irreconcilable circumstances, he pursues a sort of love story. This slight story of love takes off from a point of curious infatuation and ends up in a very random place where the script just discards it, not knowing what to do when problems arise for the characters’ arcs. Liao determinedly sets up Po-ching’s freedom, as Ching unwittingly removes his psychological block. He then flounders in the dramatic aftermath of this decision.

The characters are unexpectedly made to spiral in exaggerated and clichéd melodramatic tropes. Depression, medical overdoses, and the Shakespearean maniacal hand-wash of guilt take IWeirDo into a realm of horror and mental entrapment very arbitrarily. If characters are well written, any sudden developments in their personas will be welcomed. Here, Po-Ching’s descent into trauma seems implausible. Liao’s confusion exacerbates in the finale. His dramatic and temporal manipulation of the same narrative rip IWeirDo of any little significance that it has earned. Liao doesn’t just strip the identities of Po-Ching and Ching but also muddles Ching’s condition, causing the narrative to culminate from a bizarre standpoint.

IWeirDo’s highly inconsistent story apart, Liao shines in his technical craft. The film is shot using an iPhone but Liao joyously uses inventive filming angles, gentle zoom-ins and special effects in dream-like sequences, rendering the visuals, specifically after the frame widening change, cinematic. Taking on cinematography and editorial duties in addition to writing and directing this debut feature, it is evident Liao is a talented visualist. It’s hoped that before he eagerly takes off to shoot his next film, he gets a sensible script in hand first, whether using an iPhone camera or otherwise.

IWeirDo is streaming as part of the New York Asian Film Festival which runs from August 28 to September 12.