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THE PERSONALS

Taiwan, 1998 (MIFF 1999, Regional Features)

Director: Chen Kuo-Fu

The Personals is a cleverly constructed, ironic comedy of manners that's exceptionally accessible to western audiences without compromising its identity. A sleeper hit at Cannes 1999, the film involves Wu, a pret­ty but far from glamourous woman in her early 30s. A comfortably off professional—a successful ophthalmol­ogist in a prestigious hospital—Wu feels her youth slip­ping away. She has received over 100 responses to an advertisement she placed for a husband, but deliberately hasn't asked the applicants to send a photo. Each meeting therefore starts off at ground zero for both sides.

The Personals is largely comprised of Wu's various rendezvous (mostly at a quiet, traditional teahouse in the Taipei suburbs) with different suitors. Characters are introduced with a caption stating their name, age and occupation. They range across the spectrum, standing not only for sexual or behavioural types but crystallising the mix of traditional and modern Chinese values in con­temporary Taiwanese society.

Separated by sequences of Wu at work, confiding in a male friend or to her diary, what seems like a con­ventional structure is knocked for a loop by a script wild­card. Aside from the terrific performances, the film's main pleasure is in its dialogue. The Personals exhibits a delight in the grace notes of language and hidden meanings, the actors visibly relish their lines. A lustrous movie, precision-tooled by an emerging talent.

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