New York’s first festival honoring the contributions of women directors to Taiwanese cinema showcases 25 films: features and shorts, docs and animation. Nothing in the series feels more engaging than Sylvia Chang’s nicely controlled contemporary comedy Tonight, Nobody Goes Home (1997). Veteran Chang began in movies as an actress, made her directorial debut in 1981, and has since become one of the rare Taiwanese female filmmakers to have achieved an international reputation. Tonight explores the tensions within a large, affluent family headed by Dr. Chen, a philandering middle-aged dentist with a yen for younger women. When his staid-matriarch wife, fed up with him, finally goes out on the town on her own, she picks up a long-haired young Thai gigolo in her son’s nightclub and moves in with the hunk. Chang handles the screwball and dramatic sequences with equal fluidity—at times her gently sardonic film feels like Sirk lite.
A sweetly imaginative first feature, Wang Shau-di’s Grandma and Her Ghosts (1997) follows a young city boy who visits his country grandmother, discovers that the old dear is a Taoist shaman, and helps her do battle with the evil ghosts who are ruining the neighborhood. It’s good enough clean fun, abetted by a chorus of talking mushrooms and a scary pack of zombie cats.
Huang Yu-shan’s painfully unconvincing Spring Cactus (1999) is a stale tale of an alienated schoolgirl from a broken home who embarks on a life of addiction and prostitution. The more rewarding gay program includes Chen Jo-fei’s feature Where’s My Love? (1995) and Chan Ying-yu’s short Taipei Drag Queen (1995). While Drag Queen comes off as a giddy little home movie, Where’s My Love? is a sympathetic and moving mood piece. It concerns a morose young gay writer who has just finished an autobiographical first novel but, hesitant to come out to his family, decides not to publish it. If this series contains no budding talents likely to rival Hou Hsiao-hsien or Edward Yang, Where’s My Love?, in its modest way, stands as a respectable debut.