English Title: Cape No.7
Country of Origin: China
Studio: ARS Film Production, Buena Vista International
Director: Wei De-sheng
Screenplay: Wei De-sheng
Cinematographer: Ting-chang Chin
Art Director: Chia-Hung Tang
Runtime: 129 minutes
Genre: Romance drama
The film is set in the present day in a small town in southern Taiwan, Hengchun (literally ‘forever spring’). It is a sleepy seaside town with a beautiful beach. On the one hand, the residents of Hengchun are generally conservative with traditional values, and yet on the other, one can see international tourists in bikinis walking on the street during the holiday season. The town also holds an annual rock concert on the beach to attract visitors.
The local residents of Hengchun decide to form a local rock band three weeks before the concert begins. The lead vocal singer of this new band, Aga, is a substitute postman. He discovers a package of undelivered love letters written in Japanese from the colonial period. The letters are addressed to ‘Cape No.7,’ an address in 1940s Taiwan which no longer exists. However, Aga finally delivers the letters just before he goes on stage to perform his music. While the Japanese writer of the love letters had to leave his Taiwanese lover in 1945, Aga is able to persuade his Japanese girlfriend to stay with him.
In 2008, Cape No.7 generated a huge amount of excitement in Taiwan on a scale never before experienced. Cape No.7 is important not because it is the best Taiwanese film, but because it is the highest grossing film ever produced in Taiwan and is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film in Taiwanese box-office history, surpassing even the international blockbuster Titanic (James Cameron, 1997). For a film market that thought local viewers were no longer interested in local films, the box-office performance of Cape No.7 is not only surprising, but also significant.
Cape No.7 became a cultural phenomenon in Taiwan due to a combination of many factors including an innovative blog-marketing strategy (Su 2009: 181), free screenings before the official release, and an agreement from the Taiwanese branch of Disney to distribute the movie nation-wide (Rawnsley 2009). Most important of all is the broad appeal of the film to local viewers. As Taiwan’s film critic Michael Mai has commented:
Taiwanese movies haven't made me feel so good for a long time until Cape No.7. All the characters are so vividly portrayed and their relationships so well presented […] I always hope that local movies can equal Hollywood productions and now I've finally found a Taiwanese director that can create a movie of real commercial value. (Chung 2009)
Indeed the popularity of Cape No.7 comes from its production values and its feel-good factor. But on a deeper level, the film also deals in a light-hearted manner with the complexity of modern Taiwan and the shadow of its history. The fact that local viewers are able to respond to the film and to make their own personal interpretations of it may be the key to the film’s commercial success.
The film-maker has skillfully tackled the Taiwanese population’s desire to escape from an anxiety stemming from their efforts of de-colonization since 1945 and the pursuit of Japanese-inspired modernity among the younger generations since the 1990s. Cape No.7 acknowledges such an anxiety from within and offers reconciliation through three elements: (1) retelling the colonial past with an ambivalent tolerance; (2) creating a young Japanese character, Tomoko, with sweet and vulnerable qualities that render her ‘a member of intra-Asian imagined community’ (Liao 2007: xv); and (3) placing the protagonist, Aga, a young Taiwanese singer, on an equal footing with a major Japanese pop star on stage at the end of the film. To quote Yu-fen Ko (2004: 124), what makes local viewers respond to the film ‘may be interpreted as a desire for an ideal modernity’ and, I may add, without colonial guilt. This may be the reason why the movie makes the people of Taiwan ‘feel good,’ ‘feel proud,’ and ‘feel real.’
The box-office success of Cape No.7 is particularly important to Taiwan’s film industry. It is a locally-produced commercial film that the local audiences have been waiting for over two decades to see. Its popularity proves that there is a local market for Taiwanese commercial cinema, and it demonstrates that there is talent in Taiwan that is capable of producing financially viable films in addition to arthouse cinema. Moreover, Cape No.7 has restored the faith of audiences, investors and theatre owners in local cinema. Several locally-produced films after the commercial victory of Cape No.7, such as Orz Boyz (Yang Ya-zhe, 2008), Hear Me (Zheng Fen-fen, 2009) and Seven Days in Heaven (Wang Yu-lin and Liu Zi-jie, 2010), all performed solidly at the box office. Cape No.7 and its successors have certainly rekindled some hope of a renaissance in Taiwanese cinema.
Author of this review: Ming-Yeh Rawnsley