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Cape No. 7
Cape No. 7

Chie Tanaka and Van hug it out in Cape No. 7.
Chinese: 海角七號  
Year: 2008
Director: Wei Te-Sheng  
Producer: Jimmy Huang, Wei Te-Sheng
Writer: Wei Te-Sheng
Cast: Van, Chie Tanaka, Kousuke Atari, Rachel Liang Wen-Yin, Min-Hsiung, Mai Tzu, Ma Nien-Hsien, Ying Wei-Min, Shino Lin, Johnny C.J. Lin, Ma Ju-Lung, Bjanav Zenror, Pei Hsiao-Lan, Chang Kuei, Lee Pei-Chen, Chang Chin-Yen, Yukihiko Kageyama
The Skinny: An entertaining commercial film that's a cultural phenomenon in its native Taiwan. Cape No. 7 has comedy, drama, romance and pretty pictures, and its likable characters and agreeable feel go a long way towards making it enjoyable. It's got flaws, but most people probably won't care.
   
Review
by Kozo:
People just can't get enough of Cape No. 7. The highest grossing local film in Taiwan's history, Cape No. 7 is now a cultural phenomenon, and only has Titanic's record left to conquer at the Taiwanese box office. The film's popularity is not hard to understand; it's rousing and funny, and features situations and characters that are commercial and pleasing. However, the narrative doesn't run that deep, and the central love story is not very effective. Director Wei Te-Sheng assembles some very enjoyable elements, but there are issues that prevent Cape No. 7 from being a masterpiece worthy of its otherworldly box office numbers. But hey, that's okay - even though Cape No. 7 isn't The Greatest Film Ever™, it's a winning crowd-pleaser that's enjoyable and easy to like.

Taking place in the seaside town of Hengchun, the story concerns an upcoming concert from Japanese pop crooner Kousuke Atari. The organizers want to provide a local act to warm up the crowd, but they lack a band worthy of opening for the star. The town representative (Ma Ju-Lung) refuses to outsource, though. Thanks to his determination and exceptional skill at loudly berating others, the town holds an open audition to find its own representative band. Among the disparate locals who join up are traffic cop and ex-SDU member Rauma (Min-Hsiung), his father Olalan (Bjanav Zenror), teen church pianist Dada (Mai Tzu), and dorky mechanic Frog (Ying Wei-Min). The nominal leader is Aga (singer Van), the town representative's stepson and a former rocker who's bitter from his failure to make it on the Taipei music scene. He's supposed to handle lead vocals plus write the band's signature song, but his surly manner and obvious rebelliousness are issues.

At least, they're supposed to be. It's sometimes difficult to see what's happening with Aga thanks to Van's subdued performance, which lacks the convincing emotion to make his character arc work. Van is initially angry and bitter, but during the band's rehearsals, he starts to become a loose, agreeable dude. Part of the reason is his burgeoning relationship with Japanese concert organizer Tomoko (Chie Tanaka); the two are initially at odds, but their contentious working relationship soon inflames their young passions. The other reason for Aga's turnaround is a set of love letters that he lifts from his day job as a crappy mailman. The letters are addressed to the outdated address "Cape No. 7", and carry a confession of love from a Japanese man to a Taiwanese woman following his repatriation to Japan after World War II. Aga betrays his job duty by opening and reading the letters, but their content - plus his similar border-crossing romance with a Japanese person - softens the thorny edges of this bitter young man's soul. Or something.

Cape No. 7 possesses standard, audience-accepted sentimentality, but manages to make it both standard and sublime. This is a commercial film that's agreeable and unchallenging, and possesses standard characters and situations. Those who judge Cape No. 7 as undemanding commercial fluff are welcome to that opinion because really, that's what the film is. At the same time, the film possesses an infectiously entertaining vibe, helped by fine production values, good music, and some very likable supporting characters. A successful commercial film should take the expected and execute it such that the viewer forgives any obvious conventions or predictable emotions. That's just what Cape No. 7 does. Despite doing nothing new or remarkable, the film charms and entertains the viewer such that its good intentions shine through. The film has flaws, but it's sincere, pleasant, and likable enough that the goodwill it asks for does not seem unearned.

The film's love letter narrative device helps; the letters are related via voiceover, with flashbacks depicting the past in nostalgic, affectionate fashion. The flashback scenes demonstrate effective warmth, and the parallel drawn between the past and present romances is a felt one. Unfortunately, the present romance between Van and Chie Tanaka is hurt by questionable chemistry and some corny narrative flourishes. Oddly, the minor characters in the film are much more interesting than the leading ones, in large part because they're likable, defined types. Standouts include Johnny C.J. Lin as yueqin player Old Mao, and Ma Nien-Sien as wine salesman Malasun - both of whom end up figuring into the band's success. Both are also representative of one of the film's major strengths: an obvious respect for local Taiwanese and their culture. Taiwan is portrayed here in a loving light; the film pushes local pride, and does so engagingly with self-deprecating humor and a lack of bombast. Wei Te-Sheng conveys that affection to the audience, making his home and his people seemingly worth knowing. If anything, the film's box office is only an echo of that achievement. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2008)

   
Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Deltamac (Taiwan)
2-DVD Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Numerous extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

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image courtesy of The Hong Kong Asian Film Festival
   
 
 
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