Cafe serves up sweet but overly strong brew

Cafe serves up sweet but overly strong brew

Romance/120 minutes/Opens today

Rating: 3/5

The story: College freshman Si-ying (Vivian Sung) gets a part-time job at a cafe, where barista Abusi (Megan Lai) is trying to make the perfect cup of coffee for the lovelorn owner (Vivian Chow). Meanwhile, as Si-ying pines for Zeyu (Marcus Chang), she becomes friends with A-Tuo (Bruce), a sunny senior who does weird things such as dragging a head of cabbage on a leash.

After the commercial and critical success of You Are The Apple Of My Eye (2011), it was only a matter of time before another of popular Taiwanese writer Giddens Ko's novels received the big-screen treatment.

The people behind this movie are clearly hoping for lightning to strike twice, given the myriad connections to Apple.

While Ko does not direct this adaptation, he does serve as the film's producer. Chiang Jin-lin, who makes his directorial debut here, was executive director for Apple.

Cafe.Waiting.Love (2004) was Ko's first novel and, like Apple, is youth-oriented.

Rather than trotting out Kai Ko and Michelle Chen from Apple, an appealingly fresh-faced cast has been assembled.

Sung is the cutie pie with attitude, as she will not hesitate to speak up when she witnesses injustice; Lai, the cool and unflappable barista; and mono-monikered Bruce is winningly sunny and wholesome as the guileless A-Tuo.

For older audiences, there is the bonus of seeing the ageless Chow on screen again, four years after the lesbian drama All About Love (2010), even if her storyline is not as interesting.

At the box office, lightning might indeed have struck twice for the Ko-branded project. Since opening in Taiwan and Hong Kong on Aug 15, Cafe has earned NT$165 million (S$6.9 million) and HK$14 million (S$2.3 million).

But, compared to Apple, the story here is more fantastical and outlandish. A-Tuo's gauge of true love depends on his ability to conjure up sausages and steaming-hot beancurd from behind the head of his object of desire.

And his circle of acquaintances includes an actor (Li Luo) whose mob roles have led to him acting as a real-life peacemaker for bickering gangsters.

While there remains a sweet innocence at the core of Cafe - as in Ko's other tales - however ridiculous things get, the new film feels more scattered and stretched out because it tries to cram too much in.

Apple is definitely the more focused and cohesive film of the two.

The following is as good a test as any of how Apple and Cafe stack up: The movie adaptation of Apple led me to pick up the book, but I am less compelled to do so after watching Cafe.Waiting.Love.

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