If by now you still don't know whoÂ Jianqi Huo is, you haven'tÂ been paying attention to my reviews. The pastÂ few years I've been busy plugging the gaps in his oeuvre andÂ discovered a director with an excellent nose for traditional Chinese romance. InÂ a rare change of pace, Huo travels to Taiwan toÂ helm a more contemporary Japanese production. The result is Tai Bei Piao Xue [Snowfall in Taipei], a vintage Huo with a littleÂ twist, but still bearing all the perks I've come to expect from hisÂ films.
Huo is someone whoÂ loves to incorporate China's traditional cultural customs and values into his films.Â They areÂ typically set in a somewhat idealized China, which functions as a cosy background to the romantic or filial relationships that take center stage.Â I don't feelÂ Huo's work is intentionally soft onÂ China's more extreme policies, but it's safe to say that Chinese censorsÂ probably prefer his films toÂ those of some of China's more internationally recognized directors.
Snowfall in Taipei feels more like an outlier inÂ Huo's body of work.Â NotÂ so much thematically, but stylistically. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Yibai Zhang's films, in particularÂ Zhang's short in About Love. That's not a bad thing mind, Zhang is Huo's modern counterpart and one of China's best directors when talking about romantic cinema. It wasÂ actually quite nice toÂ see Huo break outside of his usual confines as it allowed him to showcase his broader talents, while still operatingÂ within a familiar genre.
The film follows Xiao Mo, an orphan collectively raised by the people in a small village. Xiao Mo grew up aÂ nice young man who spends his day helping out the older people in his neighborhood. His life is turned upside down when one day May, an up and coming singer, arrives in his town. May is running away from the stress and pressure of stardom and the two immediately hit it off together. But they both realize that their relationship is doomed to fail, as May can't stay in the village and Xiao Mo isn't willing to move away.
Despite the change of scenery, visually not so much has changed for Huo. The small village amidst the Taiwan mountains isn't as oldskool or strikingly rural as its ChineseÂ equivalents, but it's still cosy and romantic enough to evoke that typical Huo atmosphere. From time to time the film moves to the big city, but those moments are actually quite sparse and don't take too much away from the film'sÂ rustic feel. Colors are striking, the lighting is moody andÂ the camerawork is fine,Â making for aÂ great-looking film.
The soundtrack is fitting, meaning it makes no effort at all to break from the mould. There are someÂ poppier tracks dispersed throughout the film, mostly relating to May's character, butÂ the larger part of the soundtrack is just mellow string and piano music that feels appropriate, but is also a little boring. I prefer a more daring soundtrack, then again the musicÂ never irritates orÂ becomes too sentimental, whichÂ at least maintains a nice status quo.
The castÂ too is adequate. Bo-lin ChenÂ does a fine job. Once hailed as one of Asia's biggest talents, he never quiteÂ made it to the top but he fares well inÂ moreÂ commercial films and the part here fits him like a glove. Yao Tong also does a commendable job in her first ever feature film. HerÂ film career never truly took off, but she seems to pick her parts with care. The two of themÂ make a fine couple, the rest of the cast is solid too, but theyÂ clearly playÂ second fiddle to the central duo.
Snowfall in Taipei is a pure genre film, so don't go expecting manyÂ surprises. The ending might not beÂ 100% fan service,Â especially when comparingÂ itÂ to Western romance/dramas, but that's actually not too uncommonÂ for an Asian film. More importantly, the execution isn't too melodramatic or cheap, making for a nice romance with likeably characters and just enough depth. If romance isn't your thing this filmÂ most likely won'tÂ change your mind, but genre fans should find little to dislike here.
While there are clear differences with Huo's earlier films, Snowfall in Taipei stillÂ looks and feels like a vintage Jianqi Huo film. Whether that's good or bad depends on howÂ tolerant you are towardsÂ romantic movies. The film looks great,Â the actors do a good job andÂ even though the soundtrack is a little inconspicuous the atmosphere is warm and inviting. It's a pleasant, sweet and endearing film that might notÂ leave an enormous footprint, but should be easy enough to love nonetheless.