Comedy on loud girls, meek boys

Women from China are loud and brash. Men from Taiwan are sensitive but meek.

These are common stereotypes that Taiwanese film director Hsieh Chun-yi skewers to comedic effect in his feature film debut, Apolitical Romance.

He says with a chuckle in a telephone interview with Life!: "Taiwanese guys think that China girls are very bold and shrewish, while China girls think that Taiwanese boys are very effeminate.

"I deliberately made use of these stereotypes for my film. I hope that after watching it, people can see that they may be wrong about them. They just need to get to know one another better."

In his film, showing in cinemas here, Beijing woman Qin Lang (played by Huang Lu) is seen as aggressive and overbearing, while Taiwan man A-cheng (Chang Shu-hao), a civil servant, is gentle and easily bullied. After spending a week together, an unlikely friendship develops between them

The story has roots in Hsieh's real life. The 35- year-old says he was once guilty of making false assumptions about a woman from China.

While he was living in Singapore for three years as a graduate film student at the NYU Tisch School Of The Arts Asia, he had a classmate from Sichuan called Gu Qiao, whom he says he bickered with right from the start.

Hsieh, who graduated from Tisch in 2011, says: "We were the only two Chinese faces in the school programme then and we were very different in our ideologies. Her ideas of communism and Taiwan were completely different from what I was taught as a kid. I grew up believing that China belongs to Taiwan and she grew up believing that Taiwan is part of China. So I saw her as someone who loves the communist party.

"We always squabbled over these things but we became very good friends. Our jibes and jokes were always good-natured. We may have our differences, but through communication and such arguments, you learn a lot along the way. It opens your view of the world."

There are no hard feelings between the two. In fact, Gu is a producer of the film.

Since the movie premiered in Taiwan in September last year, it has received positive reviews. Film trade rag Film Business Asia wrote that the film "hardly puts a foot wrong" and had "an easy rhythm and great lead chemistry".

Hsieh says: "The Taiwanese audience response has been good. Some things in the film have been exaggerated for comedy's sake but a lot of people came to tell me that they found the film relatable and that it's realistic."

The real-life chemistry between the two leads is key to the film's success, it seems. Hsieh says Chinese indie darling Huang (She, A Chinese, 2009) and Taiwan's Chang, Golden Horse Best Supporting Actor winner for Gf*Bf (2012) hit it off as soon as they met and the good vibes carried onto the set.

Hsieh says, laughing: "Huang Lu is a very candid girl and often very funny. Shu-hao looks mild but his tongue can be quite evil. When they start talking and bickering with each other, it's a lot of fun."

Coming up next for the director is a feature that again centres on a Taiwanese-Chinese pairing, though it will be set in New York City.

He says it will not be a repeat of his debut, adding: "The new movie won't really be about their political and cultural differences. It'll be more of a standard love story. As a director, you always want to try new things."

This article was first published on July 26, 2014.
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