“Sometimes,” a character states in the English language translated subtitles of writer/director Arvin Chen’s bittersweet Taiwanese effort Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, “a crisis can be a good thing because you learn to see things clearly.”
Therefore it’s only fitting that the man whose entire existence (including his loves, life, and pursuit of happiness) is put under the microscope in Chen’s feature is the newly promoted employee of an optical shop who becomes the head optometrist after the outgoing, soon-to-be-retired manager tells him that his “relationship with glasses is over.”
Relationships of all types from romantic to marital, business, and parental between lovers, exes, strangers, and those in all places in between are the subject of this intriguing domestic dramedy that – much like the films of Jacques Demy which it salutes both stylistically and structurally – first focuses on the optometrist until Chen widens his lens to incorporate his larger circle of family and friends.
Introducing us to a number of characters right off the bat which tests our ability to juggle subtitle reading comprehension with memory function in trying to discern who said what before they disappear from the frame, the film soon zeroes in on its main subject Weichung (marvelously played by Richie Jen).
And by way of a photographer whose picture perfect snapshots transform reality into fantasy, Chen reiterates his theme about looking beyond the surface to see what's really there after the photographer crosses paths with our lead and reveals the truth behind the image during a chance encounter between the two old friends in a conversation that has lingering effects.
Despite having left his old secretive gay lifestyle behind to marry his best childhood girlfriend and start a family, it’s only after the married optometrist finds himself unexpectedly coming face-to-face with what might be true love that Weichung realizes may not be able to face an entire lifetime denying his true nature.
Yet by understanding that on its own that the sensitively handled protagonist’s plot could’ve easily bordered on the melodramatic or soap operatic – Chen is right to turn Love into a genre-blended ensemble study about how we reconcile our heart’s immediate desires with our plans for the future. And it's a smart move too since broadening the scope of the work makes Chen's film stand out.
Showing us the flipside of their relationship, our hero’s wife begins to sense that something is missing in her own life and contemplates having another child to fill the gap.
Avoiding clichés or the opportunity to take an easy way out via a narrative shortcut, the delicate and emotionally respectful way Chen handles both of their struggles to solve and fulfill their own needs individually and as a couple makes a terrific counterpoint for some of the other tales of romantic woe that fill the rest of Love’s running time.
Soon encountering a bride (also Weichung’s sister) who develops sudden cold feet while shopping for household supplies and a handsome lonely flight attendant whose eyes latch onto those of our lead, we’re given a large number of wholly relatable, fully three-dimensional characters and situations that Chen brings so vividly to life.
Using a touch of magical realist induced whimsy to heighten moments such as when a kiss sends one character high into the sky in what seems— by extension – to be a tip-of-the-hat to the French trifecta of Tati, Demy and Jeunet, the humanistic Love tips its hat to a wide array of directors and titles from around the globe.
From the explosions of color a la Punch Drunk Love to the multilayered ophthalmologic motif first encountered in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors to the tongue-in-cheek tone of The Wedding Banquet, Chen’s found the right blend of realism and artistry to heighten but never overwhelm events with gentle nods, flourishes, and allusions.
A naturally delightful dreamscape, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is filled with inventive production design where sets, costumes and color help layer scenes with humor whether it’s in the beige and white blandness of an antiseptic office building or the neon lights of a gay club.
Perfect for an outside screening on a warm summer night, from the titular imaginary musical sequence to the lovely final moments, Chen’s Love will inspire cuddling one moment before tempting you to get up and dance the next.
Stemming from a very personal place for the Taiwan based filmmaker (and former apprentice of Yi Yi helmer Edward Yang), in its timely and topical dedication to addressing gay and straight rights in an area of the world where far too often they’re not being acknowledged, Love proves just as heartfelt and universally engrossing regardless of gender, race, orientation, language or land.
Using a memorable score composed to reflect the era of Legrand and Bacharach as well as gentle special effects and trickery to transform regular activities into super-heroic acts, Love celebrates the unsung heroism of everyday people and the evolving definition of family.
Via this affable, well-acted confection, Arvin Chen offers you a ride on an emotional rollercoaster in the hopes that after you vicariously travel the highs and lows of love, life and characters-in-crises in the pursuit of happiness, you’ll disembark refreshed, ready to focus and suddenly able to see the future of Tomorrow much more clearly.
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