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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Betelnut Beauty  



 

Betelnut Beauty

Reviewed by Wong Lung Hsiang

Chinese Title: Ai ni ai wo
Director: Lin Cheng-Sheng
Writing Credits: Lin Cheng-Sheng
Cast: Chang Chen, Shinje, Tsai Chen Nan, Kao Ming Chun
Genre: Romance
Country: Taiwan
Language: Mandarin, Hokkien
Year Released: 2000
Runtime: 105 min
Rating : **½ (out of four stars)

Lin Cheng-Sheng was awarded the Best Director Silver Bear at Berlin for not repeating himself in his creative filmmaking process. Does that mean it's a Body of Work Award? He does always come out something new every time he makes a new film - his directorial debut, Drifting Life (1996) (my personal favorite), is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama with meditating pace. Murmur of Youth (1997) is a talky psychodrama about the bond between two girls (who later develop a brief lesbian relationship). Sweet Degeneration (1998) is another psychodrama, though with an incestuous theme and is slightly more symbolic. March of Happiness (1999) is a tragic romance told in the genre of a historical/political thriller.

Ironically, the award-winning Betelnut Beauty is arguably the worst among the five feature films he has made to date. The urban gangster romance is relatively mainstream (even though I still observed Lin Cheng-Sheng's trademarked long takes) and utterly shallow, with an uninteresting story that probably banks on the exotica of the Betel Nut Beauties (however, the problems faced by them have been trivially depicted) plus the star power. Even that, Chang Chen is always the weak link in all the movies he has participated in except for his debut performance in A Brighter Summer Day.

I guess the only good part of Betelnut Beauty film is the well-written character of Fei Fei, convincingly and heartily played by the singer-turned-actress Angelica Lee. If I didn't know her background, I wouldn't even be able to tell that she's not a Taiwanese but a Malaysian in real-life. The brief scene where she giggles in her dream is simply astonishing.