New York Asian Film Festival ‣ 消失的情人節
The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6–22 with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.
Having watched My Missing Valentine, it remains curiously unclear if it realizes just how not okay the actions of its male protagonist are.
And yes, I get it, it’s a romantic comedy with a slight tinge of the fantastic about it, so there ought to be certain allowances . But parts of the movie feel like
We’ll get into all that soon enough, I suppose. But suffice to say, it feels like a problem.
The film begins with the history of one Yang Hsiao-Chi (Patty Lee), a woman who has always been slightly ahead of schedule: always a few seconds ahead of her alarm clock, always a dance move ahead of the beat… just a case study in being just a little too quick for one’s own good.
On her way to her job at the post office (probably a gag all in itself that I’m just now picking up on), she happens to encounter Wenson Liu (Duncan Chow), a handsome young fellow giving free dance lessons in the park. An immediate connection is made and before long Hsiao-Chi is completely smitten.
Their burgeoning relationship progresses quickly enough that Hsiao-Chi suggests they enter a Valentines Day couples contest (for reasons that, if Wenson didn’t already seem too good to be true, would definitely render him super suspect as to his true intentions). After being out of step for so long, it seems like life has finally caught up with her.
So of course she wakes up to find that Valentines Day has already passed and she has no memory of the last 24 hours.
That’s right… its literally the Love Hangover.
The stricture of the movie is bifurcated, and we spend the first half in the company of Hsiao-Chi as she tries to piece together exactly what happened between the 13th and the 15th. Even if the bit about her “advanced timing” wasn’t a dead enough giveaway that things might wind up straying off the beaten path, the out-of-nowhere fantasy sequence where she opens her closet to find Gecko, a human looking fellow with some very noticeable lizard-like characteristics who offers his services as a chronicler of lost things would make that very clear.
The film treads that fine line between quirk, whimsy, and outright oddity pretty well, as Hsiao-Chi determinedly goes about trying to recover her past. But it’s when she actually gets to the truth that the perspective shifts and things take a… questionable turn.
The second half of the movie tells the story of Wu-Ku Tai, aka “Turtle” (Liu Kuan Ting); whereas Hsia-Chi is always one step ahead, Turtle is one step behind. He is a fixture at the post office, an odd and quiet bus driver who mails a letter every single day, usually finding himself at Hsiao-Chi’s station. But unbeknownst to her, the two of them have a connection that goes way back, one that has profoundly influenced the course of Turtle’s life. And when all is revealed… feelings will be mixed.
The ultimate reveal of what happened to Hsiao-Chi on Valentines Day and Turtle’s place in it ultimately becomes the thrust of the movie, and it’s a bold choice to essentially switch horses midstream. We do see certain earlier scenes from his vantage point that give us a new perspective on things, but throughout it all there’s the very uncomfortable fact that Turtle is a stalker.
Like, this is straight up stalker behavior.
And perhaps allowances should be made; this is a heightened world, and elements of fantasy absolutely are at play here. But aside from a tossed off line of dialogue at the end, it remains very unclear that film even realizes how creepy some of his actions are.
And it’s a shame that that aspect of the movie becomes so prominent because there’s a lot to recommend it otherwise. The performances are all quite winning, and the fantasy aspect just about stays on the right side of whimsy. There are some big laughs to be had (Joanne Missingham shines as a bubbly co-worker of Hsiao-Chi’s who steals all her scenes), and the movie never looks anything less than luminous thanks to the cinematography of Patrick Chou.
My Missing Valentine pretty much swept the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan last year, and in some ways it’s not hard to see why; it has a lot going for it. But the aspect of romantic comedies where stalker-y behavior gets rewarded is a trope that’s long since outlived it’s effectiveness, and it casts a taint over the whole show.