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.