I read in the news recently that this sensitive film has been vetted by Chinese censors and will show in the theaters here in mainland China. That is good news for Chinese audiences, though the DVD has long since been available (we watched the film several weeks ago). The film might be somewhat sensitive from a political standpoint, though anyone can see that it’s an apolitical rom-com and there is really nothing too sensitive. The real drama lies in how SARFT, the PRC government agency that controls what can see the light of day in Chinese media, will take each film. Will they show the film, or won’t they–and if they do, will it be edited in order to be appropriate for Chinese audiences. It’s become something of a pastime for movie buffs and maybe just anyone that lives here in China to guess how the far from the invisible hand of SARFT is going to alter the movie.
I didn’t think especially highly of the film, but there were a couple of things worth mentioning: one is that the modern day love affair between the Taiwanese male and Japanese female protagonists suggests that in the present, Taiwan and Japan can meet as “romantic” equals, that is, they can, in their own circuitous way, fall for each other. In the present day, Japan is gendered as a woman, Taiwan as a man. Both are initially wary of each other, afterwards, its rip each other’s clothes off, head over heels.
In contrast, in the flashback love affair, which happens at the end of the Second World War, Taiwan is gendered as a woman, Japan as a man, and it is only the man that speaks of his love of the woman and Taiwan. He cannot take the woman with him: why, exactly, we are not sure. Japan had to relinquish Taiwan and other colonial pretensions. But again, it is only the Japanese man’s voice that we hear. The woman is never fully seen—we get a few brief glimpses of her in the past, as she watches the boat with her Japanese lover leave the harbor, and in the present, we only see her back and weathered/withered hands. We never hear her side of the story, and thus we never understand her pain. I think this is quite interesting–it seems that the Japanese male never mailed the letters, and so the Taiwanese woman never replied–nonetheless, that isn’t exactly a justification for why her voice is absent from the film. It does suggest that people of that generation, and especially those that had “sensitive” relations with the colonizers, have many more secrets than we’ll ever know, things that we of the later generations may accidentally happen upon, or even consciously uncover, but which will always just be the tip of the iceberg.
On a less highfalutin level, there is also the fact that this film has been the most successful local film in Taiwan for a long, long time, and everyone is trying to figure out why that happened. One of the more thought out articles on this is from Asia Pacific Arts magazine, where writer Brian Hu comes up with a list of seven reasons why he thinks the film was so successful in Taiwan while debunking some of the pat and what he thinks are incorrect answers. His list begins with 1. Because it appeals to both the local and cosmopolitan sensibilities. He points out that in this regard, this film can only be understood within the context of the Taiwanese film industry, including among other things the Hou Hsiao-Hsien pioneered Taiwanese New Wave of the 1980s and 1990s. Hu argues that the appeal of Cape is not in some “realism” a la the Taiwanese New Wave. Verisimilitude and social realism don’t necessarily equate with box office success. Hu’s second point: 2. Because it makes people laugh. Anyhow, there is seven total and the article is a good read.