Three Imaginary Girls

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Au Revoir Taipei

The immensely entertaining Taiwanese gem Au Revoir Taipei, director Arvin Chen’s debut feature (with exec-producer credit to none other than Wim Winders), won my affection in ways I never would’ve predicted, and I’m happy to see that SIFF has added a late-breaking fourth (!) screening to the schedule. When I attended (on a Sunday night at Pacific Place) the house was packed, with the longest rush ticket line I’ve seen yet this festival year, and those of us fortunate enough to snag a seat were in for a true charmer. I’m seriously tempted to see it again after the Closing Night film this Sunday.

Chen’s film tells a rather complicated story with a feather-light touch. It centers on Kai (Jack Yao), who works at his family’s busy Taipei noodle stand by day and hangs out with his always-hungry but very lovable lunkhead of a buddy Gao (Paul Chiang) by night. Hung up on an unseen ex-girlfriend who’s recently relocated to Paris, Kai regularly parks himself at his local bookshop to study French textbooks; he’s of course oblivious to the subtle longing glances of cute shop assistant Susie (Amber Kuo). (Voiceovers of Kai’s unanswered voicemail to la nouvelle Parisienne are hilarious.)

Kai thinks he’s found a way to Paris when Brother Bao (Frankie Gao), a maybe-mobster who frequents the noodle shop, offers him a ticket in exchange for “courier delivery” of a mysterious package. When Bao’s decadent nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) gets wind of of the deal, he and his wannabe-badass gang of orange-jacketed misfits attempt to intercept the MacGuffin parcel; hot on all their trails is an unhappily-married cop (Joseph Chang) who’s been staking out Bao’s operation.

This all sets the stage for the crazy night before Kai’s trip — a night that will include slapsticky chase scenes, kidnappings, infatuations, mistaken identities, and… food. Lots of delicious-looking food. It’s probably best to plan in advance for a post-film visit to the nearest dumpling concessionaire.

So, OK, plot-wise there aren’t a lot of surprises here, but I challenge you not to fall head-over-heels for this breezy, unabashedly romantic flick. With its engaging characters, lovely cinematography, snappy editing, Woody Allen-ish urban wistfulness, and marvelous jazz violin score straight out of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Au Revoir Taipei is a crowd-pleaser of the highest order, 85 short-n-sweet minutes of pure movie delight.

{Screens Saturday, June 12, 6p, at Kirkland Performance Center, and Sunday, June 13, 9:15p, at Pacific Place.}