China, Comedy, Fantasy, Films, Recommended posts, Reviews, Taiwan

Didi’s Dreams

Dee Hsu and fantastic production values light up an amusing if predictable effort that also takes some interesting turns…

Didi (Dee Hsu, Kangsi Coming) is a struggling actress, seemingly born to only get humiliating parts in TV Commercials and whacky variety shows. Whilst she is lovingly supported by her boyfriend Kouzi (Jin Shijia), success never really comes her way, which is made even worse because her estranged older sister sister Lingling (Lin Chi-ling, Red Cliff) is a superstar. Didi escapes each night into a fantasy world where she is Xu Chunmei, the proprietor of a noodle shop in a space station – where she serves a special soup that changes flavour according to her moods. Didi’s life hits both a low and highpoint when she is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour pretty much at the same time as one of her audition pieces goes viral. As Lingling becomes embroiled in a scandal, the production team see an opportunity to deflect negative attention by inviting Didi to star alongside her sister in a big budget Period film. Obviously the barely contained sibling animus causes friction, but this is coloured by Didi’s worsening health. And then there is the question of just what is actually happening in Xu’s noodle shop?

Two things raise Didi’s Dream’s above standard Chinese/Taiwanese crowd pleasing comedies. Firstly, we have the fabulous look of the film – from the ‘Mannequin Challenge’ opening, to Didi’s rooftop garden, to the brilliantly executed vignettes that poke fun at Chinese television adverts and variety shows. Secondly, we have Dee Hsu. For those who don’t know, Hsu is a Taiwanese pop-culture mainstay – originally part of pop duo ASOS with her sister Barbie Hsu (Silk), and then as co-host of Variety/Talk show Kangsai Coming/Kangxi Lai le (with co-host Kevin Tsai who directed this movie). The show is not just popular in Taiwan, but all across mainland China. She makes the step up to the big screen with aplomb, bringing not only her winning personality and comedic skills, but giving a decent amount of depth in the less cheerful areas of her character’s story.

So, as the famous younger sibling of a famous sister, you might think there is an amount of meta-commentary going on here. And whilst there is in terms of the shows and commercials being lampooned early on in the running time, the actual rivalry not only doesn’t match any real life issues with Barbie, but it actually falls fairly flat. Didi’s medical condition, the scandal Lingling encounters, and frankly the lack of any strong interaction between the two sisters means that despite the somewhat misleading trailers, the conflict is fairly limp and resolved far too soon.

Lin Chi-ling might be one of the most beautiful women in Taiwan, but sadly she doesn’t have the acting skills to pull off this role. As the haughty beauty she does fine, but sadly when she is called upon to deliver a meatier emotional punch, it all falls a bit flat. Other performances are fine, and there are probably crowd pleasing cameos for fans of Kangsai Coming.

The biggest problem the film has is one of tone and structure. The first act is a colourful riot, with Hsu giving an hilarious performance, and Tsai bringing colour and imagination to both the real and dream worlds. However, once the film drops the Sick Girl trope on the audience, it somewhat mutes the comedy. Not only that, but it also neuters the whole sibling rivalry plot line rather too sharply. What we end up with is a film that can’t really be the comedy nor the emotional drama it wishes to be concurrently.

However, ten minutes from the final credits, the film pulls a final twist, suddenly linking the characters of Didi and Chunmei in a different way than the audience will have been expecting. Without giving too much away, think of it as Inception-lite or inspired by Alice in Wonderland’s Red King.

Didi’s Dreams fundamentally succeeds because of the central winning performance by Dee Hsu. Along with the fabulous production, it makes this movie an acceptable diversion for Western audiences. I do feel that maybe this will play far better to the Chinese diaspora who will get extra value from the various cameos and tropes on display. It’s just a shame that the middle act lacks the emotional depth or even a tender bittersweet touch. One also can’t help wondering that the Inception-lite/Alice in Wonderland Red King is too good a twist for this movie.

Didi’s Dreams is in US cinemas now, released by Cheng Cheng Films. See the official website for details on theatre locations and times.

About the author

Stephen Palmer
Millionaire Playboy by day, Masked Avenger for Justice by Night, Stephen battles...... Oh ok, I am an English Film Geek who also publishes his own ramblings on More »
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