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When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/20/13 20:40:32

"It's actually quite the cute pairing."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One thing that struck me while watching this movie is that you don't see many Hollywood romantic comedies with young characters - it's always bankable stars who are by their nature at least in their thirties. The sort of just-out-of-school adults who play out "When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep" seem to be a relative rarity. Which is sort of a shame, because this is a charming as heck little thing that doesn't have a whole lot of anger or bitterness to it at all, and it would be fun to see more like it.

Things open up with Tung (Kai Ko) being dumped by his girlfriend Ying ("Nikki" Hsieh Hsin-ying) via a post-it note on his forehead which says nothing aside from that she is going to a cram school on Nanyang Street. Apparently that's where a lot of those test-prep places are in Taipei City, though, so Tung goes there, gets a job in a photocopy shop that has a bed in the back and waits for their paths to cross. She never comes into the shop, but Hsiao Yang (Jian Man-shu) does, copying tests for the "Sure Win" school. She takes to drawing cartoon sheep on them; one day he draws a wolf in response.

Other stuff goes on - there's a lost dog, and when Tung is asked to clean out a bunch of storage lockers, he endeavors to return their contents to their owners. Yang dreams of being a cartoonist but is also waiting for her boyfriend to return from college in America. There are, in retrospect, a lot of stories about knowing when to hold and and when to move on, and writer/director Hou Chi-jan manages to be plenty clear about this without the movie feeling like it's trying to impart any sort of lesson or rule about the subject. There's a nice combination of randomness and synchronicity to how the various side-stories come together.

One of the things I like most about it is that it doesn't feel the need to jam things into capital-r Relationship statuses; Tung and Yang can meet, do stuff, and clearly start to like each other without going into what it means for the future. Sure, they're going to end up together, but mechanically getting them to that point doesn't feel like the film's first priority. Hou Chi-jan has fun with his airy script, making this street its own little world that manages to be kind of ramshackle without ever seeming decayed, having visual fun animating Yang's sketches and other flights of fancy. The soundtrack is light and clever; I particularly like the version of "Rhythm of the Rain" that shows up about midway through. He also finds a good voice for Tung's narration that's down but not so self-pitying as to make the movie a drag.

Kai Ko takes that attitude and translates it to both voice-over and action. His Tung is a believable sort of sullen that persists after the raw hurt may be gone out of obligation, and he quietly shows the paradox of how a new connection lifts him even though he's not yet ready to feel good. Jian Man-shu and Yang make a nice complement; Yang smiles and jokes and has a practical system and while Jian succeeds in making her the outgoing one, there's always the proper sort of sense that this isn't quite real. They don't have to carry the entire movie alone - a very entertaining supporting cast is able to sell a lot of jokes to keep things from getting too mopey without upstaging the leads or falling into self-parody - but they're good enough to seldom be found wanting.

They're charming, as is the movie as a whole. I like that there's a lot more friendship to the central relationship than desperation or lust; it may not lead to the most dramatic or frantic sort of story, but Hou shows that there's plenty of room to be funny while still being warm.

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