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Cape No. 7



Title: 海角七號
Translated title:
Cape No. 7
Directed by: Wei De-sheng
Written by:
Wei De-sheng
Year: 2008

Cape No. 7 is without doubt the most successful film ever to be produced in Taiwan, at least if box office results are to be trusted. It has grossed almost US$ 14 million since its release in August last year, which is incredibly impressive since the budget was a meagre US$ 1.5 million. So, after watching the film, do I understand the hype? Yes, I do, and I’ll try to explain it to you.

The story takes its beginning in the 1940s, during the time when Japan ruled Taiwan. A teacher dispatched to the island falls in love with a local girl with the Japanese name Tomoko, but is forced to leave her as Japan returns Taiwan to Chinese control after the end of the Second World War. He writes a series of letters on his way home, expressing his regret to leave his beloved Tomoko, but the letters never reach her.

60 years later, in present day Taiwan, Aga (Van Fan) returns to his native home in the south after a failed attempt to find success as a rock band singer in the capital. He ends up delivering mail, thus stumbling upon the letters written over half a century ago, now sent from Japan to Taiwan by the deceased teacher’s daughter, but even though Aga tries to deliver the beautifully-worded letters, the old address Cape No. 7 is obsolete.

At the same time, a local official insists that an upcoming music event shall feature a local band instead of a Japanese, and a fashion model named Tomoko (coincidence!) is responsible to find artists and make them work together. Her struggle to make Aga join the band and work together with the various oddballs is of course further complicated by her falling in love with him. The story is told using three main languages: Taiwanese, Mandarin and Japanese, approximately in that order of frequency.

This is only the beginning and part of the reason why I like this film is that the plot works on so many levels. There are numerous seemingly insignificant threads which end up having important outcomes and each contribute to the overall picture.  Even though most of the actors are amateurs, some of them without any experience of film making whatsoever, their characters come across with feeling and credibility. The letters to Tomoko are interspersed throughout the film, creating a link to the past and expanding the scope of an otherwise fairly limited story.

However, even though the story is enjoyable in many ways, that’s not the main reason why I like Cape No. 7. Instead, the atmosphere and the feeling it conveys is almost overwhelming. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but the story and the characters touch me in a way I seldom experience. This is worth a lot, and, together with the story and convincing characters, I hereby award four and a half snails to Cape No. 7.

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