Taipei Exchanges (2010) Poster

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A Nutshell Review: Taipei Exchanges
DICK STEEL25 July 2010
If your idea of a Taiwanese film veers toward that of art house fare, then think again. Of the two Taiwanese movies which are released here in close succession, one next week with Au Revoir Taipei, and this one which is executive produced by Hou Hsiao-hsien and already screening, both showing plenty of promise in mixing mainstream sentimentalism with art house production values. Both films are helmed by first time feature filmmakers, and you can safely say that things are indeed looking exciting with their youthful exuberance, being breezy in treatment, and whimsically beautiful in their simplicity.

Writer-director Hsiao Ya-chuan has an eye for style and technique here, putting together various ways to mix the genres of comedy, romance and even a pseudo-documentary all rolled into Taipei Exchanges. It's multi-layered, which makes it have something for everyone, underneath the topmost veneer story of two sisters having to set up a cafe as part of pursuing their dreams, or serve as a conduit to their desires. Doris's Cafe, opened by Doris (Guai Lun- mei) as a means of getting out of the paper chase and gaining independence, sees her teaming up with her sister Josie (Lin Zai-zai, who looks Like Lun-mei o make it even more convincing) who starts a scheme to drive up traffic for a newly opened store.

Which is as the title states, a barter trade system of goods or even services exchange, where almost everything in the shop is open to trade. It's quite a neat strategy giving their cafe a unique value proposition from the countless of cafes out there, in order to drive eyeballs, visits, and of course, sales when the would be customers come in and start to order something. As an unintentional seed which came as a problem to be solved, no thanks to friends who donate unwanted knick-knacks, this forms the crux upon which subplots got weaved into the narrative, from small supporting characters coming and going, and where other stories got told to form what the Mandarin title promises, no less than 36 stories.

I simply love the beginning of the movie, which took its time to demonstrate real life woes faced by any typical entrepreneur, following Doris' setting up of her one year old shop, with the baseline issues of menu design, furniture selection, and the constant worry of finances when customers don't show up, with overheads already sunk, and operating expense bleeding the business everyday. One clearly cannot rely on friends alone to drive traffic, nor make recommendations to visit the shop (I think some friends who have set up a business in similar fashion can attest to this), since they are at liberty to pay lip service, and don't actually turn up.

Then come the many unique stories, some fantastical, others folk legends, which are provided an additional dimension through the drawings that were designed to go along with them, coming from bars of soap associated with cities around the world. Hsiao Ya-chuan also adds in that dash of realism with those documentary styled moments where people on the streets were asked the same hypothetical questions posed to characters in the film, and while some answers do seem rehearsed and canned, there were others which I felt were brutally honest and sincere. And as if not enough, Hsiao also keeps a running joke ongoing in the film with the sister's mother constantly questioning her daughters intents and objectives in life, which inevitably get answered by others, providing separate insights.

With life imitating art in having the real life shop location now operating and becoming a tourist magnet, just like what's in the film, Taipei Exchanges entertains, yet makes you think about how each of us potentially have many stories to tell based on life's experiences, and this will only increase through what's essentially the passage of life. With an excellent soundtrack and a deceptively simple narrative hidden under bubble gum pop, I'll file this under my highly recommended list as a contender for one of the best this year!
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A ninety minute promotional video for a tourist café in Taipei
sitenoise5 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Taipei Exchanges stars one of Taiwan's most promising and popular young actresses, Lunmei Kwai, who I like quite a bit, but it's disappointing to see her in such a manufactured and saccharin product. Taipei Exchanges has the narrative structure and impact of a pop music promotional video. Everything is so shiny and polished nothing sticks. Everything floats by meaninglessly, accompanied by what sounds like schmaltzy canned synthesizer doodling from someone trained in writing jingles for laundry detergent commercials. In between doodles there will actually be a music video while we watch Lunmei Kwai think about an éclair or something equally fascinating.

Kwai plays Doris who's opened a café with her sister Josie, played by newcomer Zaizai Lin. Lin looks a lot like Kwai except with a curve to her nose, and she looks good in high-top sneakers and tights. We know the type: cute slacker with cool hair and hip t-shirts. Doris is all business and Josie is a dreamer. Josie wins in the end by turning Doris into a dreamer who learns there is more to value in life than making money selling a cup of coffee.

The title, Taipei Exchanges, plays on two aspects of the film. One has to do with the exchange of goods or services and the other is the exchange of stories that often accompany the goods or services exchanged. When Doris first opens the shop a bunch of her friends bring her junk from their attics as housewarming gifts. Most of it is recognized as junk and thrown away but a few things that didn't even catch their attention enough to be thrown away turn out to be of interest to some of their customers. And thus begins the shtick. Since they didn't pay for any of the stuff they won't sell it but will take something in exchange for it. The bartering always follows the same routine. The first proposal is rejected as thoughtless and the comeback is appreciated for its sappy wonderfulness, like a Disney moment.

The film is narrated by an anonymous voice because the characters aren't thick enough to hang a story on. The café used in the film was built specifically for the film, reportedly backed by Taipei's tourism authorities, and is now open for business as a real coffee shop and tourist attraction. Taipei Exchanges is the feature film directing debut of television ad director Ya-chuan Hsiao. That about sums it up.
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Time to Open a Coffee Shop
xinbuluan3326 November 2015
I have always wanted to open a coffee shop and naturally when I saw this film it had touched my heart. What is the value and objective in life, this is the main theme of the film. Saving money, said the elder sister played by Kwei. I wanted to travel round the world, said the younger. At the end of the movie, the objectives of life of the two sisters swapped and their mother nagged of their changes. But there is no change, said the taxi-driver, one daughter wants saving money and the other want travelling around the world.

I read a book that says there are three main objectives in life: security, meaning and novelty. The difference is your priority. If you want saving money, you seek security and if you want to travel around the world, you seek for novelty. Romance, well, meaning of life.

But then there are the exchanges - the 36 stories for each soap collected from around the world in 36 cities. Exchanges mean swapping your value system with some one else. No man is an island. I like the exchanges part of the movie, be it romantic exchange or money exchange or barter - change of commodity.

Taipei Exchange is a light-hearted but a soul-searching journey and a nice exchange with the director. And of course, the like the part of opening and operating a coffee shop too.
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Beyond Salvage...
housearrestedever17 December 2022
What a horrible and pretentious movie. The narrative with a woman's voice is absolutely terrible. The dialog, the acting and the screenplay are all nothing but a joke. I never understood why all the Taiwanese screenplay writers, directors and the actors never grew out of the immaturity and pretentiousness. Most of the Taiwanese movies are either trapped in the adolescent retrospection, puppy love, memories of the elementary, junior high and high school days, or the laughable delinquent gangster genre crap. I can't even find an actor who's really talented enough to play a role like what a realistic person should behave. The forever poorly patched and unnaturally manufactured dialog simply made all the actors to act worse and exaggeratedly awkward. No matter how they tried to make a barely watchable movie, it always gave you an impression of immature and more feminine feeling. There's no way to keep me from impatience to most of the Taiwanese movies whatsoever. No, I am not particularly discriminating against the Taiwanese movies, but a viewer who watches all kinds of movies from so many different countries on a daily basis, but why Taiwanese movies always let me down and made me lose patience every time and decided to quit within 5 to 10 minutes; 15 to 20 minutes was a miracle, albeit in the middle or approaching the end.
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