Sometimes, you get a feeling about a film. There was something about the long list of genre descriptions that piqued my interest. The fact that it was directed by Giddens Ko definitely helped too. Till We Meet Again [Yue Lao] is one of those rare original features that sees a successful director get the necessary funding to truly nail one of his passion projects. These films don't come along very often, it's even less common to see them executed to their full potential. That alone is reason enough to cherish a film like Till We Meet Again.
Giddens Ko has been making a name for himself for a decade already, both as a writer as well as a director. The man's talent is clear, but so far his directorial work never felt quite confident enough to make it as a personal favorite. It's Ko's versatility that sets him apart from his peers, one day writing a sentimental coming-of-age story like The Apple of My Eye, the next delivering something utterly nasty and vile like The Tenants Downstairs. Mon Mon Mon Monsters already tried to combine all these facets into a single film, but with Till We Meet Again, Ko truly nails it.
It's pretty much impossible to properly categorize this film with just one or two genres. There's a clear romance thread at its core, but you'll be looking at contemporary/urban fantasy elements for most of the time. Which are then further fleshed out with action, comedy and horror bits. Add a little drama for good measure, and you might start to get an idea of the film's ambition. Ko's primary talent is that he can switch between all of these genres and styles effortlessly, with everything reinforcing each other rather than work against each other.
It's not easy to summarize the plot, though the core thread is quite simple. When Xiao-lun is hit by lightning, he ends up in the afterlife, where he is forced to choose his path of reincarnation. Because his karma is running low, he decides to become a God of love, earning extra credit whenever he connects lovers in the world of the living. On this journey, he discovers that his old girlfriend is still pining for him. He decides to help her find a new love, not an easy decision as the two never properly said their goodbyes. Even with the help from his colleague, the task proves more difficult than expected.
Taiwan has a reputation for making stylish and visually lush films, Till We Meet again upholds that tradition. No easy feat, as the country isn't best known for its fantasy productions, and this kind of contemporary fantasy requires technically proficient CG and a considerable level of visual creativity. Coupled with beautiful cinematography, solid editing and lovely color/light play, there is plenty to enjoy here. People who love the maximalist aesthetic will have a field day with this film, others could be a little overwhelmed by the explicit styling.
The soundtrack is a little tricker. Kudos to Ko for not using typical/average film music. Taiwanese cinema can be very traditional in the score department, so it's nice to see them make an actual effort. The film has a soundtrack with a strong signature, but it can be on the poppy side. It's not your average Canto/J-pop and in between the lighter fluff there are some more classical tracks, but those won't be the songs you remember once the end credits start rolling. I wouldn't be surprised if the score would get on certain people's nerves, then again, those people probably aren't the core audience of a film like this anyway.
Also, kudos to the cast, who do a very commendable job. Ko did go for young and pretty people to flesh out the main cast, but they do offer more than just looks. Kai Ko and Jingle Wang are a fun and charming lead duo, it's Vivian Sung who manages to leave the biggest impression though. It's not the first time she claims the spotlight, but this film is no doubt going to be the next step in her career. The secondary cast is good too, though their parts are more limited and few of them have a big impact. Unless you count the dog, who clearly had the time of his life.
A film like Till We Meet Again will invariably come off a little messy. There's quite a bit of lore and plot to wade through and without the context of an established genre or niche a film like this becomes pretty unpredictable. Ko doesn't make it easier on his audience by sprinkling a handful of seemingly random references throughout, but all that's just a side effect of originality and creativity. If that's too much of a bother, you're probably better off sticking to Hollywood franchise work and keep future comments about lack of originality to yourself.
Till We Meet Again is a true delight. I knew next to nothing about it going in, but it didn't take me longer than five minutes to realize this would end up a personal favorite. Giddens Ko finally banks on his talent and serves a wildly creative and unique film, with the necessary visual flair, a notable soundtrack and strong performances to back it up. It might be a bit too divisive (and certainly not enough like the lauded New Wave films) to make a big international splash, but that says more about broader audiences than it says about the quality of this film. I hope Ko can and will continue on this path, I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes from here.