(3 STARS) THE PERSONALS. (U) An eye doctor opens a Pandora's box of
emotional issues when she places a personals ad in search of the perfect mate.
Directed by Chen Kuo-fu. 1:44 (adult situations). In Taiwanese with English
subtitles. Cinema Village, Manhattan.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF the 1998 romantic comedy "Next Stop Wonderland" occurred
when single gal Hope Davis interviewed a series of respondents to a personals
ad her mother had planted on her reluctant behalf. The flash-cut montage of
smarmy bachelor candidates offered a tour-de-force actor's opportunity for
Davis, whose face reflected the amusement and agony of an intelligent woman
confronted with a battery of inappropriate choices.
Imagine an entire movie constructed around such tete-a-tetes, and you have
some sense of "The Personals." What is harder to imagine is that such a device
could sustain an entire film. But Taiwanese director Chen Kuo-fu and actress
Rene Liu have fashioned something surprisingly arresting and humane out of
what is essentially the same audition-sequence convention that moviemakers have
dragged out for quick laughs since "Fame."
Liu plays Du Jiazhen, a smart and reasonably attractive ophthalmologist who
decides it's time to stop fixing the eyesight of others and start expanding
her own field of vision. She quits her job and places a husband-wanted ad in
the paper, triggering a rather impressive onslaught of a hundred responses.
Setting up shop at a teahouse table, she holds court for a parade of men (and a
couple of women) whose sincerity is generally outdistanced by their chutzpah.
There is the predictable array of guys looking for sex, including a
high-end pimp who offers Du a job, and a smooth-talking married man who
slithers around his true objective, hoping not to have to bring up the S-word.
There are the get-the-cane oddballs such as the betel-nut addict and the shoe
fetishist. Most amusingly (and perhaps least credibly) are the guys who arrive
bearing the tricks of their trade: the actor who shows up in full disguise, or
the personal-defense hardware salesman who gives a free stun-gun demonstration.
Cinematographer Ho Nan-hong manages to locate as much variety in such
encounters as the screenplay does, which drives home a cogent point about the
voyeuristic potential of personals-ad campaigns. Through all, Liu is a
commanding and ever-changing mask of reactions as a woman who observes her
suitors as if looking out from the protective shield of a dark-tinted window.