HomeReviewsSomeone in the Clouds (Taiwan, 2019) [NYAFF 2019]
Someone in the Clouds (Taiwan, 2019) [NYAFF 2019]
11 July, 2019
Weng Hsiao-pei (Yao Yi-Ti) is an aspiring reader of tarot cards, following in her grandfather’s footsteps. She uses her gift to give romantic advice to paying men and women. When presented with the possibility of romance herself – with the over-confident and immature Ma Chiung-nan (Austin Lin) – Hsiao-pei is not quite as self-assured.
Mitch Lin and Gary Tseng reunite following their collaboration on the
documentary A Journey with Invisible
Friends (2018) for this sharp romantic comedy that comes with a familiar
obsession with sex, and an unexpected level of complexity in its filmmaking
technique. Enjoying the film requires an ability to engage with the broad
combination of heightened performances and slapstick humour that tend to
dominate North Asian cinema, but within its cultural context it is a smart and
breezy piece of work.
Someone in the Clouds succeeds largely on the back of a particularly talented cast. Yao and Austin Lin are exceptional leads, particularly in combination with Mitch Lin’s screenplay. Hsiao-pei and Chiung-nan are deeply flawed individuals. They both succumb to petty jealousies, and both take time to mock, insult, and otherwise mistreat one another. In lesser hands both roles could come across as actively unlikeable, however the actors add a huge amount of charisma and personal chemistry. The result is pair of multi-faceted and, more importantly, deeply enjoyable characters. Key support is provided by Tsai Cheng-nan as Hsiao-pei’s grandfather and Phoebe Huang, who recently delivered a knockout performance in Dad’s Suit (2018), as her wayward relationship-seeking mother. Huang’s performance is a sharp contrast to her work in Dad’s Suit, replacing that work’s naturalism with this film’s exaggerated comic sensibility. Jordan Chan has an entertaining extended cameo as one of Hsiao-pei’s tarot-reading clients.
readings make for one on the more fascinating aspects of the film, as they are
treated as an everyday and perfectly sensible aspect of everyday life. The
readings do not reveal direct predictions or directions; instead they offer
characters general guidance and advice. One romantic match might be read as a
risky proposition, or likely to lead to better fortune than others. Taken on
its own merits, such astrological advice seems rather farcical, but the manner
in which the characters (and Taiwanese culture generally) receives it gives it
an internal legitimacy.
On a technical level the film is presented with a surfeit of colour and some unexpected narrative flair. The story often jumps back and forth in a non-linear fashion, with momentary flashback to key events. Events are divided into chapters, emphasising both the passing of time and repeated motif of New Year celebrations. When the film is at its most overtly comedic, it almost feels like a cartoon: bright colours, vivid lighting, and a rapid sense of pace. Locations in Taipei and nearby Keelung are captured wonderfully. At times the film veers close to mild arthouse pretensions, but in the main keeps an even track along a mainstream comedy route.
viewers may struggle a little with the bold sense of comedy. It is a typical
feature of many Asian films in the genre, but for viewers in the
English-speaking world at least it often comes across as a little too broad and
silly to handle. Someone in the Clouds occasionally
falls into this broad style – particularly during an extended physical sequence
in which Chiung-nan injures his groin, gets set on fire, and is beaten by
Hsiao-pei – but this potentially silliness is well compensated by the richness
of the characters and the enjoyable plotting. The film makes for a creditable
addition to a popular genre; audiences seeking such fare will find much to
Grant Watson is an independent film critic based in Melbourne, Australia. He is a two-time winner of the William Atheling Jr Award for Australian science fiction criticism and review. You can find his other reviews at FictionMachine and FilmInk.