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I WeirDO
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by Jay Seaver

"Everything changes."
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2020 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: The screwy capitalization/punctuation of "I WeirDO" feels like it's something that should get under the skin of its main characters, both dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I wonder if the Chinese title ("Guai Tai") gets that across. I kind of hope not; this is a pretty good movie despite filmmaker Liao Ming-Yi's tendency to seemingly go for the gimmick on both ends, and that shouldn't be overwhelmed by the way it tries to get cute.

Not that the pair Liao introduces the audience to aren't cute already. Chen Po-Ching (Austin Lin Po-Hung), who has mysophobia as a main symptom of his OCD, only leaves his house once a month to do his shopping, see his doctor, etc. That routine is disrupted when his usual grocery store is closed for refurbishment, and when taking the train to the next-nearest one, he's surprised to see someone else in the same raincoat/mask/gloves/boots combo, who goes to the same supermarket and also loads up on cleaning products. She's Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh Hsin-Ying) - no relation; Chen is just a fairly common name in Taiwan - and her symptoms are similar, but she also develops a rash when outdoors for too long and feels compelled to steal something every day. They understand and like each other, and it turns out they complement each other in ways beyond that; soon they're living and working together. What could ruin that?

That'd be telling, but it's a big enough shift that the movie's first trick can fall by the wayside just as it's starting to get tiresome: Though a fair number of features have been shot on phones (this one claims to be the first in Asia), few have done so with the phone held vertically as is initially the case here. It's a tricky thing to finagle - for all that it can highlight Po-Ching and Ching's lives as constricted, that frame is human-shaped enough that it is natural to fill the frame with an actor and as a result not see how they fit into their background, with the alternative a lot of empty space on an already constricted screen. Fortunately, it's composed well and this lasts just long enough to click in the viewer's mind as this film's normal, and that means that when Liao switches to something more conventional, the switch is jarring for a second but then settles into something that, on the one hand, is more comfortable for the audience to interpret, but on the other carries through as always being different from how the film started.

The overall mood of the film seems to change as well. The opening portion of the film is filled with bright, solid colors, the precise positioning and arrangement a by-product of their OCD but also pleasing to look at, with the film never downplaying that these two have genuine mental-health issues, but allowing them to have enough control over their lives to come off as eccentric, functional within their limits. Lin Po-Hung and Nikki Hsieh do a nice job of capturing how the two are socially maladroit while still giving the audience a sense of who they are beyond that fact. There's a certain obligatory practicality in how they pair up that the audience is meant to recognize, but they and Liao do nifty work in nudging them toward the point where their relief to find someone who understands them goes from something that might blind them to other issues to the basis for a solid relationship. When things change, the environments seem more ordinary. Not drab, exactly, but out of their control, which highlights the precarity of the cocoon they've built for themselves.

It ties into how the latter part of the movie seems to lose it way at times, both Lin and Hsieh are always believable in the moment, even as their characters' priorities shift, but the fact that Chen Ching in particular is so solitary means that that a lot of what's in her head comes out as narration. A lot of things that happen to push things forward occur off-screen, and though it's certainly not uncommon for people to not put in enough effort to make things work, there's a pretty long stretch where the audience can get impatient with these people not talking honestly even if it now being hard to communicate is the point. It wobbles a bit more at the very end, where Liao makes it fairly clear that things are being driven as much out of the characters' fears as their actual intentions, but in such a way that the audience and characters don't have time to work through that at all, so it can come off as a game.

That may be saying too much, but it's hard to talk about "I WeirDO" without talking about the whole thing, and that's in many ways a strength - it's made with purpose and the finale is a crucial part of the film. It's not always a complete success, but it is nevertheless a movie that makes a good impression and gets better as it lingers in one's mind afterward.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33636&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/13/20 05:45:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2020 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ming-Yi Liao

Written by
  Ming-Yi Liao

Cast
  Nikki Hsieh
  Austin Lin



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