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When you compare the gulf that exists between the wretched quality of acting in the bulk of Taiwan's television dramas and that in the high proportion (but small number overall) of excellent films, you have to wonder whether there are two different worlds in this small country. "The Personals" is an example of the latter to treasure. Rene Liu is captivating in a quiet sort of way as a professional woman struggling with her well-concealed demons and subjecting herself to an endless round of meetings with various suitors. The acting is so natural and attractive that one almost feels like an eavesdropper at the table in the tea shop, but a welcome one.
The overall emphasis is wry comedy, but as with so many Taiwanese films that get foreign release, there is a drifting air of sadness and dislocation. This might be partly due to the fact that the bulk of Taiwan's foreign-screened films are obsessed with the fortunes and neuroses of the "mainlander" minority in Taipei (Eat Drink Man Woman is thus far the pinnacle of this syndrome). Many "mainlanders", even their Taiwan-born children, retain an equivocal attitude toward Taiwan as a home outside of the sphere of greater China and from this I suspect comes that sadness and dislocation. Yet pro-Taiwan independence zealots might even read into this film a more troubling interpretation: Rene Liu is smart, attractive, sassy, engaging - thoroughly modern - but is stung by prior romances, and unable to find a partner in anyone, yet is desperate for affirmation and companionship.
Ethnic interpretations aside, the film could have been an ugly disaster by mocking the men (and one woman) who would be her companion. Instead we get a lovely selection of real people, complex and banal, kooky and elegant. But never dull. If you walk down a Taipei street, these are the people you will meet.
The writer and director deserve the highest accolades for this effort. It's one of the best contemporary Taiwanese films out there.
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