Arvin Chen follows up his excellent debut Au Revoir Taipei with this delightful story of Taipei thirtysomethings reassessing their relationships and sexuality, as the weight of familial responsibility looms.
Continuing in a similar vein of light-hearted yet keenly observed romantic comedy that made his first film such a pleasant surprise, Chen's second feature trades the awkwardness of young love for the romantic wasteland of married life. Reserved, introverted optician Weichung (Richie Jen) has a wife, a son and a steady job. But a chance meeting with an old friend, the flamboyant and openly gay Stephen (Lawrence Ko) throws the stability of his domestic life into turmoil. Before he was married, Weichung was gay, and the drudgery of daily life compared to Stephen's fast-paced, commitment-free lifestyle, has Weichung questioning his own sexuality once again.
Meanwhile, his wife Feng (Mavis Fan) is looking to have another child before she turns 40, and her awkward advances only serve to encourage Weichung's decision to look elsewhere for love. Nervously he begins meeting with a handsome male flight attendant (Wong Ko Lok) and exploring the city's gay scene for the first time in over a decade. Meanwhile, Weichung's sister and only surviving family member, Mandy (Kimi Hsia) announces her engagement to the responsible, if unremarkable San San (Stone). But no sooner has it been announced, Mandy gets cold feet and walks out on her fiancé.
While this parade of flailing relationships may sound complicated, Chen employs a gentle, breezy pace and lightness of touch that helps dispel the chaos. Chen's fondness was bright pastel colours, his charming sense of humour and shrewd observations of relationship dynamics come together in a joyous celebration of love and happiness that makes Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? an unadulterated pleasure to watch.
Richie Jen gives a remarkable performance as the awkward, self-conscious Weichung. He is overweight, shlubby and would rather keep his head down and let life go by without incident rather than speak out and upset the balance. Whether negotiating with his in-laws, repelling the advances of his adorable wife, or embarking on a flirtatious eye test with an attractive customer, Jen nails the role brilliantly. The image of Weichung dancing, eyes closed, on the crowded floor of a gay nightclub, resonates long after the film has ended, and serves perfectly as the film's key image. At this moment he has thrown off his inhibitions, headed directly for what makes him happy, and is enjoying life more fully than he has in years.
Equally good is Mavis Fan as Weichung's troubled wife, forced to contend with drama both at home and in the workplace, while juggling parental commitments, overbearing parents and the niggling desire to become one again while she is still physically able. Even better, however, is Kimi Hsia as Mandy, the perennial free spirit who is unwilling to settle down and start a family, forever hopeful that her prince charming is just around the next corner. Mandy is beautiful, yet annoying, she is demanding yet wholly dependent on a man to look after her. She is an emotional wreck, yet also utterly charming - the whole package, for good and bad.
Chen's greatest strength, even beyond his well-drawn characters and astute scripting, is his ability to manipulate cinematic conventions and break out of the confines of his otherwise completely grounded film. When the drama, or more specifically an emotional crescendo demands it, Chen allows his characters to float off into the night sky, or break out into song. This time out we see a drunk and mournful Feng begin a laboured rendition of The Shirelles' Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow at a karaoke bar, only to be transported into a TV studio, where, accompanied by her colleagues, Feng suddenly sparkles in a full-blown doo-wop performance. Elsewhere, Mandy seeks solace in Korean soap operas, only for the lead actor to suddenly appear beside her, issue relationship advice and guide her through San San's efforts to woo her back.
With Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, Chen dispels any worries over the "difficult second feature", delivering a film of broader ambition and deeper resonance than his first film. One or two forgivable missteps aside (our hero does commit the movie faux pas of making a speech at someone else's wedding be all about him), this is a charming, hilarious, touching and unashamedly frank film that champions love and happiness, in all its many forms, and encourages everyone to speak up for what they want, chase their dreams, and forgive those who walk away. On the basis of his first two features, whatever Chen turns his hand to tomorrow, we'll still love him.