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Make Up
Make Up

Sonia Sui and Nikki Hsieh in happier times in Make Up.
Chinese: 命運化妝師
Year: 2011
Director: Lien Yi-Chi  
Producer: James Wang  
Writer: Yu Shang-Min  

Nikki Hsieh, Sonia Sui, Matt Wu, Bryant Chang, Bright Pu, Michael Chang, Tseng Yun-Jou, Debby Yang, Wang Hung, Tang Ching-Huei, Wu Pi-Lien, Hsieh Chiung-Yao

The Skinny: Excellent on a superficial level, but lacking in suspense, edge and possibly purpose. Glossy detail and needless subplots mar what could have been a strong little mystery-thriller. Sonia Sui and Nikki Hsieh are fine in the lead roles.
by Kozo:
It’s got a good foundation but the actual application isn’t so pretty. Director Lien Yi-Chi's Make Up is a thriller-mystery-drama that ultimately lacks edge, building suspense and emotion before discarding them in favor of toothless revelations and an unfulfilling climax. Nikki Hsieh (Honey Pupu, One Day) is Min-Hsiu, a mortician who becomes entangled in a web of interpersonal secrets when she attends to the corpse of her high school music teacher Chen Ting (popular model Sonia Sui), who died from a sleeping pill overdose. Soon Min-Hsiu is approached by Chen Ting's grieving husband Cheng-Fu (Matt Wu), a psychiatrist who was also Chen Ting's doctor. Cheng-Fu is interested in knowing what Chen Ting was like before their marriage and views Min-Hsiu as the key to finding out. Could there be a new, possibly forbidden romance brewing between the widower and the deceased's ex-student?

No, that would be clichéd and also unlikely, especially because Min-Hsiu's relationship with her former teacher was a little closer than her husband would probably like. Make Up posits a soap opera-ish backstory about a young girl, her forbidden love, that forbidden love's new husband and also cop Kuo Yung-Ming (Eternal Summer’s Bryant Chang, now calling himself Ray Chang), who’s investigating Cheng-Fu with intense interest. There are details indicating that Chen Ting was perhaps not responsible for her own death, though she did have a history of suicidal tendencies. Meanwhile, Min-Hsiu has difficulties at work and at home, and borderline sleazy Yung-Ming may have his own hidden agenda. Who will Min-Hsiu end up siding with: the heartbroken widower or the smarmy detective on the make? The film’s plot possesses all the hallmarks of a seedy, twisted thriller, but Make Up ain't going there. It seems to have greater aspirations.

Unfortunately, said aspirations are never reached. Lien Yi-Chi directs Make Up with gorgeous purpose, creating atmosphere and tension through promising situations and some superlative production values. However, the film ultimately doesn’t reveal much beneath its well-groomed surface. Min-Hsiu and Chen Ting’s past relationship carries a surprising emotional weight and Nikki Hsieh and Sonia Sui play their parts excellently. However, once we learn what happened to them, the film has long since lost its ability to affect. The script by Yu Shang-Min connects everyone in a needlessly complicated and intricate manner, resulting in alienating plot turns and far too many dropped subplots. The climax ties all the elements together weakly, with the whole film failing as a mystery thriller or a character drama. The details of the story are fine, but the suspense is drained by the poorly-paced reveals.

It doesn’t help that the characters outside of Min-Hsiu and Chen Ting are rendered unsympathetic or ridiculous. Bryant Chang seems to be having fun, but his smarmy performance suggests a character from a trashy psychological thriller. Meanwhile, Matt Wu goes for haunted and hurt as the widowed husband, but he never becomes sympathetic either before or after key reveals. The film seems to align more with Wu, aiming for something with meaningful heart, but the overplayed surface is all we seem to get. That feeling is reinforced by the film’s too-pretty cinematography and style. The film’s look consists of golden yellows and moody blues, with some visual choices (under-lit rooms, lurid art direction) seemingly from the music video playbook. Make Up ends up as an uncomfortable mix; this is a commercial film, shot faux-artistically but told unconventionally. The audience – whatever side they may lean to – may only be able to pick and choose which stuff they like. Chances are both sides will leave something behind. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Summer International Film Festival, 2011)

Availability: DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
Sky Digi Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1

Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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