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Keeping Watch

(left) Haden Kuo, and (right) Joseph Chang in Keeping Watch.
Chinese: 沉睡的青春  
Year: 2007  
Director: Cheng Fen-Fen  
Writer: Cheng Fen-Fen  
  Cast: Haden Kuo, Joseph Chang
  The Skinny: Calculated and quirky, this well-meaning romance feels better than it perhaps is, thanks to thoughtful direction from first-timer Cheng Fen-Fen. An involving ride that occasionally pleases, despite never fully convincing of all its aims.
by Kozo:

Simultaneously lovely and calculated, Keeping Watch seduces the viewer while also challenging them to suspend their disbelief. Set in lovely rural Taiwan, the film concerns Ching (Haden Kuo), a quirky young woman who runs her father's clock shop all by her lonesome. The shop is located next to the railroad tracks, but Ching never rides the rail, because many years ago, her mother got on the train and never came back. Since then her father has been a dopey drunk, who's always waking up to ask if his wife has returned. Ching has given up all hope that such a thing will ever happen, and continues to bide her time, waiting in the clock shop. But just what is she waiting for?

Keeping Watch asks the above question. Literally. As is usual for a Taiwanese film, Keeping Watch is told in slow, opaque style without benefit of voiceover, obvious exposition, or very active storytelling. However, director Zheng Fen-Fen does use an overt narrative device: a series of dreamy intertitles between scenes, effectively acting as Brechtian subtitles denoting virtual chapters in the film. The intertitles narrate the film in almost children's book-like format, giving us big cues that the dialogue and exposition aren't handing to us. The device certainly helps, but it also renders the onscreen happenings as less demonstrative than they could be. The audience no longer thinks for themselves; instead, the titles hand the film to them, reducing interpretation to mere questions that receive almost automatic answers.

Still, despite the film's obvious intent, there's enjoyment in Keeping Watch, especially in its gradual, non-verbal development. Ching's wait ends when she meets Han (Joseph Chang of Eternal Summer), a near-sighted fellow who carries an obvious torch for the willowy Ching. He arrives every day after 3pm to ask her to fix his watch, which always becomes waterlogged between visits. At first she dutifully fixes it, asking for payment each time, but slowly the connection between them is made. Han reveals that the he and Ching were once classmates, and before long, a minor romance blooms. But Han is also Yu, who resides in a psychiatric hospital and goes on furlough every day at 3pm, whereupon Yu becomes Han and goes to visit Ching. How is it that Yu and Han can inhabit one body, and what kind of psychiatric hospital lets its patients come and go as they please?

That last detail is one of the unbelievable aspects of Keeping Watch, and there are many others, including intertwined past connections, convenient situations, and some stuff that's difficult to completely buy. The film possesses plenty of odd details, and many of them are charming, especially when performed by the lovely, photogenic Haden Kuo. Still, some of the quirkiness is more cutesy than actually quirky, and seems glaring in its needlessness. The characters don't always convince; Ching warms to Han far too quickly, which is odd given her aloof character (the film takes place 10 years post-high school and she seemingly has no friends at all). What's more, the revealed backstory between she and Han/Yu is very, very involved, and though the facts are dispensed seriously and even reverently, some of the details don't convince, and are even a bit silly. Ultimately, the film reveals a potent, but also convoluted backstory that requires plenty of verbal explanation. When everything finally gets explained, the situation is so labored that whatever magic director Zheng Fen-Fen has created loses a little luster.

This isn't to say that the film is bad, because it's not. The film is simply enjoyable to watch; the performances are involving, and even its cloying devices manage a certain sort of charm. Haden Kuo has a refreshing screen presence, and Joseph Chang is quite good as Han/Yu, managing to create two distinct characters through more than just a pair of glasses. Ultimately, there's much to like in Zheng Fen-Fen's approach, from the minor details to her depiction of the rural Taiwan setting, which seems to exist as an idyllic, remote hamlet reachable only by train. The film would have been improved had they tightened up the script and story, perhaps limiting the more quirky elements and reducing the amount of intertitles providing exposition. The whole film is a little too calculated in its meaning and intent, managing to affect more by design than actual execution. However, the unfolding situations and minute details make for a charming and even touching little film that can still engage one's emotions, if only superficially. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2007)


DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
Taisheng Multimedia
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles


image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen