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January 16, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright January 16, 2009 Peter Zarrow. Used by permission.


“Cape No. 7” (海角七號) is an energetic bon-bon of a film that is Taiwan’s official entry for the Oscars this year, in the “best foreign film” category. Who was it who first compared a certain type of movie to the bon-bon? The Taiwanese film sensation “Cape No. 7” fits the description perfectly. Light romantic comedy with an edge of tragic love lost. And above all, let’s all rock together—Hoklo, aborigines, young and old, Japanese—even an energetic Hakka!—invited into the mix. Not a corrupt politician or political judge in sight. The film even had, now that I’m thinking of confectionary, an otherwise completely pointless set of cute triplets for the frosting.

I like bon-bons as much as anyone, and while not a great film, “Cape No. 7” is a perfectly fine two-plus hours of entertainment with a number of very witty jokes. I laughed, I wept, I thought of Oscar Wilde (One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing), which wasn’t really apropos but still came to mind. My inner curmudgeon was summoned forth, as is perhaps increasingly the case with age. Other reasons will appear below.

The plot, in brief: Aga阿嘉, wannabe Taipei rock star, returns home to Hengchun and becomes a postman. Meanwhile, his stepfather, a town councilman, forces a local hotel that is putting together a big rock concert to use local talent to open the show. Slowly, a band is put together, led by Aga, and even more slowly an attraction develops between Aga and Tomoko 友子, the Mandarin-speaking Japanese given the job of putting the band together. Aga is not exactly a prize specimen (lazy on his postal route as well as moody pretty much all the time) but his pout is so cool that he can do anything. Tomoko is actually more interesting and makes things happen. In an undeliverable package, Aga discovers letters originally written in 1945 by a Japanese teacher to his Taiwanese lover, also named Tomoko. Narration of these letters provides a tragic wrap-around story—a small sour plum in the middle of the bon-bon.