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Hellaro – A Review by Anant Dhyani

What exactly are films? Why do you watch them? Is it in search of entertainment, or to find something meaningful? Or to dive into a world altogether unknown to you?

In the myriad cinemas that have been made for the human race so far; we always encounter a film or two sometimes, that which makes us constantly think about it, a film about which we talk, write or discuss for days on end.

The cinematic moments in films like these, that have carved out a special place for themselves among our many favorites are nothing but magical, wherein each frame is a mixture of poetry and art. Hellaro is a film that fits this definition. Written and Directed by debutante director Abhishek Shah, this 2019 Gujrati Film became the first film from the state to win the coveted National Film Award for Best Feature. It is nothing short of a masterpiece, and we’ll tell you why.

Hellaro (The Outcry) is based in a drought-ridden village at Kutch. The film opens in the middle of nowhere, showing us how the patriarchal society has blamed a three-year-old drought on its women, having stripped them of their freedom as they are only allowed to fetch water from a nearby lake. The village is also unmarred by law and order, as they claim that no one comes to that place. The lives of women change with the introduction of the protagonist Majihiri, who believes that women should live their own life irrespective of their age and marital status. Her initial struggle for freedom is rejected both by the men and the women of the society alike. As her husband tells her to cut her wings and horns because it will hurt more if he’d take charge of her; her resolves only goes stronger by the day.

The narrative of the film takes a turn when the women meet a stranger, a mysterious dhol player. Both women and the dhol player find solace as well as freedom through their mutual love for music and Garba. The rest of the film follows their collective journey as it concludes brilliantly in its haunting climax.

For me, the biggest asset of the film other than its strong narrative, is its cinematography. Cinematographer Tribhuvan Sadineni skilfully captures the many landscapes of the Kutch, crafting each and every shot with a unique finesse. The use of crane shots along-with wide-angle shots adds depth and richness to the scenes. In particular, the powerful Garba scenes where emotions like anger, happiness and sorrow plays together in the unique dance form. If one were to point out, the scene wherein the widow is finally allowed to leave home after being locked for more than a year is shot evocatively. It is scenes like this that make us connect to their struggle for emancipation.

On the performative front, Shraddha Dangar shines as film’s protagonist Manjhri. She is supported by a brilliant ensemble cast. A role that surprised me was Maulik Nayak’s portrayal of Bhaglo, a goofy character whose impact changes the film, as he’s the only man from the village who holds compassion for ladies. It is not just a well-etched, but also a well rendered role.  

The music of the film is done by Mehul Surti, and it rhymes well with the sequences as it is a combination of both meaningful words and heavy emotion. Each song narrates different sentiments and shows the strong side of the Gujrati Folk Music. Besides, the film has its share of comical moments, which don’t seem forced or out of the box. Both the editor and the director made sure that the film doesn’t look like an unsolved Rubik’s cube.

More than a film, Hellaro is an emotion. We seldom see a film which garners an almost universal reaction involving silence and amazement simultaneously; owing to its sheer magnificence. It is a story of women who are deprived of their freedom, by the men who ironically are devout followers of Goddesses. It’s a tale of thousands of ladies who fight against the patriarchy, it’s a story of freedom, a story of struggle and most importantly it’s a story of music and dance. It has a perfect blend of music, cinematography, costumes and performances which makes it a must-watch, which sadly went overlooked by audience all over India. Now it’s time we give it its due.

Now Playing for Free : MX Player

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Why does the world need to watch ‘Parasite’ and not remake it? : Japneet Singh

Possibly the most celebrated movie of 2019 was ‘Joker’, directed by Todd Phillips, and starring Joaquin Phoenix. Although, another noteworthy mention would be Avengers: Endgame.

I was delighted to watch ‘Joker’ in the Theatres, when it was released in India; and was in fact, happier, when it was Nominated for the Oscars. Joaquin has been nominated for the Oscars several times, but he often fell short of the finish line until Joker happened. While watching the Oscars, I earnestly awaited the announcement, almost as if I am a stakeholder in the film. Usually, I stop the award shows midway, but I stayed on this time, to experience a moment that has never occurred before in history; to come to know that a South Korean film called Parasite has won the Best Film. Unfamiliar to the film earlier, I added it to my long and never-ending Watch list and, as usual forgot about it.

Little did I know, that the lockdown will follow and I will have all the time in the world to complete my watch list. I struck one movie after the other, one series after the other, and then came to Parasite, one fine day. Earlier, I was reluctant to watch it; as I had not been exposed to the East Asian language cinema. I decided to rip-off the bandage and watch it, and to my absolute treat, the film turned out better than words can express.

There has been a growing income and wealth inequality in South Korea. Being a part-time economics student and a full-time movie buff; these topics have resonated with me all through my student life, but never has anyone depicted it so brilliantly on the screen. Bong Joon-Ho created a masterpiece, and it came to be revered globally.

The film also points out to the fact that irrespective of one’s location on the globe, the poor are more prone to superstition than the rich, as depicted by the faith family posed in stone and not their capability. The camera movement, the lighting, the sets, and the actors; every detail in the film is so meticulously chosen and constantly improved, that you cannot possibly think of replacing anyone or anything. While the film gains pace with each passing second, the lives of people in it transforms into a slow-moving train wreck.

It also has an underlying acerbic commentary, captured in the dialogue and the actions of the characters, which points out to the privilege of the rich. Rain, a common season for both the families, is a disaster for one and a blessing for the other. Though that is applicable to any situation, capitalism and repetitive economic and social crisis have made people insensitive; exacerbating poverty and inequality, more so in places where it had already existed.

The movie ends on a positive note, where the Parks have been able to move up the economic ladder and buy the same house. I extend the ending to conclude that poverty makes the poor’s world small, like a snow globe; and that their imagination becomes restricted to what they see, making their world subservient to that of rich. It has made me more conscious of my privilege and made me empathetic towards those who are deprived of basic rights. Therefore, I feel, this piece of cinema should be watched by everyone and not remade to lower its quality

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Meshes of the Afternoon – A Review by Siddhayani Jain

Movie Poster

In Hindi, the word Maya means illusion. Eleonora Derenkowska changed her name to Maya Deren and went on to create her most celebrated film – Meshes of the Afternoon – which is nothing short of a surreal experience itself. The film set and filmed in 1943, with its dream-like overtones, seems like it was way ahead of its time. It begins with what looks like a mannequin hand placing an artificial white flower in the middle of the streets, the hand then disappears. Just a few frames in, it is evident that the film will not have a conventional narrative.

With its myriad of metaphors and poetic placements, Meshes of the Afternoon attempts to exhibit a rather bizarre take on the frustratingly recurring life of a woman. She encounters several eerie hurdles in her attempt to break away from the cycle and with each try, she only gets more desperate to break away. From the mirror-faced person to the man whose image turns to glass only to be shattered later, the film is dripping with symbolism to the point where it could make a viewer paranoid about all possibilities of interpretation. Despite ending on a relatively desolate note, it has a touch of morbid beauty that would make one keep watching regardless of how uncanny it is.

Somehow, without actually showing anything conventionally scary, the creators build a disturbing environment. The engineering on the soundtrack only adds to that atmospheric tension, making the film-for lack of a better term-psychedelic. The technical delivery of the film, as primitive as it may seem, is still artful enough to keep a modern-day audience invested in it. In addition to the enchanting abnormality of it all, the lines between reality and dreams shift constantly, leaving so much space for one to question the implications the events of the film have.

Meshes of the Afternoon is the kind of short film that can branch out into so many different connotations. Watching it once might make one think they understand it well enough; and maybe they do on the surface level; but with each frame, this film unveils a hundred different things. With every watch, it has a new meaning to offer. And with every meaning that it does offer, it takes the one watching on a new journey, each one more eccentric than the other.

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I lost my body – A Review by Anant Dhyani

The Film’s Original Poster

Original Title – J’ai perdu mon corps/I lost by body

Director – Jérémy Clapin

Country- France

Animated films are quite paradoxical and vivid when it comes to cinema. It a style which has been traditionally looked upon as childish and reserved for kids, although it has seen various developments in forms of maturity and acknowledgement from viewers. In recent times, big studios are trying to incorporate mature themes by seemingly disguising them in simple animation, we are also witnessing a wave of smaller studios working on a similar path. So, what happens when Xilam Studios, known for Oggy and The Cockroaches, Zig and Sharko Etc decides to jump this ship? We get ‘I Lost My Body’, which in my opinion is not a film, but an ode to our struggles.

A Flashback in the film, told through black and white.

This film directed by Jérémy Clapin wastes no time in captivating viewers by showing elements of fantastic surrealism from its first shot by introducing one of our protagonist as a severed hand. Yes, a hand it takes a bold step by challenging our perception of how we imagine films by diverging us into the world of a hand.

The second story which runs parallel with this is of Naoufel, voiced by Hakim Faris in French and Dev Patel in the English dub. Both plots flow parallel like streams of the river and explore themes such as survival, discontent, loneliness and dismemberment; which are both physical and mental.

Naofuel’s Journey

Both stories are in search of someone, and in this search they face realities of life. The film cleverly shows some depressing and socio-political themes in its context, but where it gains its advantage is by portraying the world of both Naofuel and the Hand. For Naofuel, whose melancholic world as a pizza delivery boy changes when he hears the voice of Gabrielle (voiced wonderfully by Alia Shawkat in its English dub) contrasts the world of hand which is raw and brutal. It can also be related to the importance of people in our lives for Naofuel. He is indirectly or directly helped by people; whereas the journey of the hand remains alone making it much more difficult and brutal. The embodiment of both journeys is to reach a goal. For Naofuel it is to find the person behind that voice and for the hand it is to find the rest of its parts. It also differentiates in such a way as Nafouel represents human, so all of his interactions and moments are based on the principles of human knowledge and undergoes the laws of science; whereas the Hand’s journey is more of a  horror-like surreal experience with dreamy and bizarre moments indicating the acknowledgement of its fantasized principle.

The Hand’s Struggle

The animation of the film is top-notch and resonates with the theme of the film blending both 2D and 3D style of animation. The film is a technical achievement given its low budget; supported by equally haunting and gorgeous music by Dany Levy, who mixes electronic and Lo-fi French Hip Hop for the film. The colours are a mix of vibrant red and blue but also tampers down to indicate the mood and setting of the scene. The Director calls this style as “an animated world halfway between the tangible and the imaginary”

Naofuel and Madelline

 Based on screenwriter Guillaume Laurant’s 2006 novel ‘Happy Hand’, ‘I Lost My Body’ successfully manages to connect the dots in an evocative manner, the film also became the first animated feature to win the coveted  Nespresso Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and is a must-watch for those who are looking for a different kind of cinema.

The Hand overlooking the City.
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Bareilly Ki Barfi – A Review by Madhur Kushwah

Starring Kriti Sanon and Ayushmann  Khurana, Bareilly Ki Barfi is based in a small town. Bitti (Kriti Sanon), the protagonist of the movie has been raised as a tomboy in a conservative society. This results in her inability to attract a suitable bachelor in marriage market which is her mother’s (Seema Bhargava) primary concern.

In an attempt to run away from home, Bitti ends up reading a book titled “Bareilly Ki Barfi” and thinks of herself as the mirror image of the book’s protagonist. Her resemblance to the book’s lead becomes the cause of her quest to find the author Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkumar Rao). Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurana) helps Bitti in this quest.

Like many other Bollywood movies, this movie also promotes a narrow vision of gender equality. The necessity of drinking and smoking for a woman to become a man’s equal is a problematic notion and also leads to the misconception that all men smoke and consume alcohol. I don’t understand why the movie (and Bollywood, in general) is devoid of any exploration of intellectual qualities and strength of character in a protagonist when dealing with the issue of women’s rights.

At some points the movie touches the theme of gender equality but ends up being a love triangle, in which, one sheds tears while the other two smile and rejoice. ” Sweety tera drama” and “Twist Kamariya” are the peppy garnishes of this conventional ‘barfi’. However, the romcom’s one liners add charm to the movie and the effortless change of tone and personality of the characters make them real and magnetic. To conclude, this sweet and salty ‘Barfi’ is worth a bite.

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Uncut Gems – A Review by Anant Dhyani

Director – Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

Starring – Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield

Runtime – 135 minutes

Country – United States

2019 was a great year for films, as it was the year when we saw excellent films across genres and platforms. With the release of films like The Irishmen, Marriage Story etc, the OTT also upped their game. In this horde of great films, some movies missed the recognition which they should have gotten. Uncut Gems is one of those films.

The film’s lead actor Adam Sandler is a name that was not meant to be taken seriously, most of his early filmography was filled with cliches and silly storylines but were generally successful at the box office. Given proper directors, Sandler has excelled in his performances be it films such as Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, The Meyerowitz Stories, etc.

Gladly, Uncut Gems falls into the second category of his films. Collaborating with Safdie brothers for the first time who have their share of excellent filmography such as Good Time, Daddy Longlegs, Heaven Knows What this is a brilliant piece of work having elements which were long lost in Sandler films.

Sandler portrays Howard Ratner, a wealthy Jewish Jeweller with a gambling problem. His portrayal of Howard is surprisingly phenomenal and probably the actor’s best till date. He has no likeable qualities and is filled with greed and irresponsibility; but the way his character is woven makes us feel connected to him when he finds himself in the middle of the intricate web of troubles. The supporting cast has also done a remarkable job given their limited space and development. The direction is so strong that even the minor characters shine, but the hidden protagonist of the film is New York City.

Gone are the bright lights of Times Square and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Cinematographer Darius Khondji brings a raw version of New York, which is both unwelcoming and chaotic. Use of close-up handheld shot and unconventional colours contribute to the chaos and the sense of mind of the protagonist. Scenes exploring themes such as drugs are brutal and violent; and all are kept strong and raw and the film’s biggest asset is its character-building Howard’s greed, his failing relationship with his family and peers are explored in a realistic and a much more human manner.

The Editing is handled exceptionally as what could have been a path of boredom turned into a thrill ride for viewers. Its runtime and shots are orchestrated in such a way that other than maintaining the pace of the story it manages to indulge us in its rising tension.

 The film also has special appearances by Abel Tesfaye (The weekend) and Kevin Garnett, who seemingly dives in the gritty world of Uncut Gems and doesn’t shy away to show a more non-superficial side of themselves. In particular, Kevin Garnett dons an excellent version of himself where he plays a major role in plot development, giving us a rare occasion where an extended cameo of a well-known celebrity resonates with plot development.

Not revealing much about the plot, I can say it opens like a roller coaster ride with those shaky moments and uncertainty and ends like a long peaceful journey.

At the time where cinema is saturated with comic book and science fiction films; Uncut Gems, from its bizarre opening to shaky takes tries to bring back long lost methods of filmmaking and it won’t be an understatement to call it an underrated gem of cinema. Produced by A24 Films, and distributed worldwide by Netflix, this film brings us back to the techniques and methods which were missing in recent years. It is a definitely a must watch.

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Platoon – A Review by Anant Dhyani

Platoon – Genre War/Drama
Director- Oliver Stone.
Release Year- 1986. 
Country- US.

Released in 1986 Platoon is arguably the most realistic and critical movie to have the Vietnam War as the central theme. The film has a distinction for being the first Hollywood production to be written and directed by a veteran of the Vietnam War. Platoon probably ranks as closest for the director who is known for his work on films like Scarface, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Midnight Express and W.

The story is based on the director’s own experience in the war, which comes to be projected through the protagonist Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) who is young, fresh and inexperienced – dropping out of Yale to enlist in the army. The film immediately thrusts the viewer into the reality of combat war, as we are introduced to the corpses, and in no time he and his fellow privates are thrown in the depths of Vietnamese jungles.

The film’s social commentary works by stating that it is the poor and deprived who are thrown to die whereas the rich are home in their comfort, and Taylor questions their statement by saying that he is from a privileged background. Most of the film deals with the uncertainty, ongoing fear and both the moral and physical brutalization undergone by U.S soldiers fighting in Vietnam.

The U.S soldiers in the infamous village scene where we see atrocities do the film’s moral compass. In this scene, the U.S solider’s enter a village on suspicion of harbouring Viet Cong’s after which they brutalize women, children and in the process they burn the village, we see a turning point for Chris who witnesses the morally good Sgt.Elias(William Dafoe) preventing the morally bad Sgt. Barnes( Tom Berenger)from killing a young girl. Chris, who took part in the atrocities earlier thereafter prevents the rape of village teenager by other soldiers. This Moral division divides the soldiers into two groups one who identify around Barnes, whereas the other that associate with Elias. Chris, who earlier admired Barnes alienates himself from Barnes and joins the group of Elias highlighting the path, which the protagonist chooses.

The soundtrack of the film is haunting and the rampant usage of Adagio of Strings reminiscent of how Apocalypse Now used Ride of the Valkyries.

Just like most of the Hollywood productions involving the Vietnam War, Platoon focuses exclusively on the US Troops and their experiences in Vietnam. The structure of the film narrates both the professional and personal journey of the protagonist on how he matures and how the bitter war grows on him.

It is a film that is made to keep mass audiences in mind. Its symbolism overpowers its realism and is only rivalled by JFK as Stone’s finest work.

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“When Marnie was there”- A review of one of the lesser known Ghibli movies

 

 

A Still from When Marnie Was There

Anna lives a reclusive life- avoiding all forms of social interaction as much she can; she walks everyday wearing a pensive emotion on her face, carrying a sketch pad. Her foster mother Yoriko worries about her all the time, much to her ire because she wants nothing but everyone to shut up and leave her alone to wallow in her loneliness. Her repressed emotions of self hatred and sadness often catch up and trigger her asthma attacks. After one such occurrence Anna’s foster mother decides that she should visit the countryside because the fresh air might improve her health. Anna enters the countryside with the same pensive emotion and hopes to return to the mundane and shut-in existence that she has had. However things take an intriguing turn when Anna meets Marnie- the mysterious blonde girl who lives in an abandoned mansion in the marsh.

The Abandoned Mansion

Apart from Ghibli’s stunning animation and slice-of-life story telling When Marnie was there is in its core a coming of age story that deals with themes of love, forgiveness and acceptance along with a foray of more mature topics of child abuse, abandonment, and sexuality.  Anna’s reluctance to trust others and accept love is a very real struggle with herself and the world around her that keeps throwing her towards and away from any kind of interaction. Her quiet demeanour is in fact a mere coping mechanism that she employs to guard her from the unpleasant experience of social contact. As teenagers who were never sure of their place in the world or in any form of structure at all, one can tell that Anna has been struggling with a lot of inner turmoil over accepting her surroundings and herself. She is angry, sad and afraid and to cope with all those emotions, she chooses to repress them.

Marnie on the other hand is just this mysteriously familiar stranger with a very cheery disposition. She boasts about her parent’s wealth, extravagant parties and a perfect life which is hard to believe when she is locked in her room most of the time.

When these two characters meet and feel drawn to each other- an unlikely yet so natural friendship blooms. The chemistry between these characters is rich, fascinating and vaguely romantic. The romantic nature of this relationship often leads to an uncomfortable interpretation of the given movie however one must recognise the pursuits of Ghibli in exploring sexuality, love and attraction in a very honest and silent way via the given subtexts of the movie. While not necessarily a queer movie- this movie still does its best to portray a tender side of attraction and its rawness without shame.

Even the supporting cast has rich personalities. The Oiwa family, with whom Anna spends her summer, is a very positive couple who are really fun to watch on screen. Anna’s foster mother Yoriko also stand as a salient character of her own that worries too much and is obviously always anxious for the well being of Anna. Even characters that appear for mere seconds have a deeply rooted personality that one can understand and empathise with.

Anna’s journey is one of self discovery and self-acceptance and the story treads it ever so gracefully that one can only expect from studio Ghibli. Ghibli prides itself in its laid back and slow paced life like story telling where the mundane activities of everyday also become integral to the screen. Scenes of cooking, collecting mushrooms, washing clothes, etc become an aesthetically pleasing experience to behold that are part of this big and beautiful narrative. When Marnie was there is no exception as one particular sequence of Anna picking and cutting tomatoes will hold your attention well. For example- one of the most beautiful scenes in this movie is one where Anna and Marnie are having a picnic in the evening. The dialogues are simple and charming at best but what holds the story and the screen at that moment are the physical interaction between the characters as Marnie lays out the food for the picnic and Anna just keeps up with the conversation. It is simple, relaxed and becalming which is how the entire story unfolds.

Commenting on the movie’s climax- it is a general belief that it somewhat confuses and complicates the movie and the character dynamics. However, I personally find the climax commendable for tying the movie together in the way it does. More often I understand, people miss the point in Anna and Marnie’s character dynamics and pretty much engage with the plot with a more literal interpretation and try to define the said characters under a set label of sorts. However, what I understand is that the relationship between the main characters is an exploration of Anna’s psyche as a person learning to come to terms with themselves and finding love within. This in context, with the climax and what is later revealed to us- sheds light on a somewhat different interpretation of the movie.

Screenshot (46)

When Marnie was there is indeed one really brilliant movie with an amazing score, voice acting (another case of sub over dub), animation and story. A timeless coming of age story which tackles themes and characters that most modern day animated movies shy away from, When Marnie was there thus stand as an integral part of the collection of Ghibli movies that made giant contributions to cinema and anime culture.

A Still from When Marnie Was There

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Au Revoir Taipei – A Review by Anant Dhyani

This film celebrates youth in its spirit, by showing the part immaturity, part annoyance alongwith joy and discoveries which we tag with us in the process of growing up. Everyone goes through youth once, only to abandon it later and regret it beyond measure. It is a well-known fact that not everyone wants to mature early, sometimes they do because of passion & sometimes because they want to prove themselves. Every stage of youth has its own way of direction which cannot be compared in a comprehensive way, and Au Revoir Taipei represents those people who celebrate the essence of youth and follow their passion.

The film’s title, which means ‘Goodbye Taipei’ in French, mirrors protagonist Kai (Chun-Yao Yao also known as Jack Yao) who daily visits a library in pursuit of French as his girlfriend has left him for further studies in France. There, he sparks the interest of library salesgirl Susie wonderfully played by Amber Kuo, another narrative which runs parallel is of local mafioso Brother Bao (Frankie Kao) who is about to retire, running real estate company as a front, managed by his spoiled nephew Hong (Lawrence Ko) and a group of not so bright thugs (all wearing orange jackets) are chased by a rundown cop and his goofy assistant all in one evening in Taipei.

The title of the film aptly encapsulates its beauty, and its charm lies in its simple yet humorous characters. It should be viewed for its little moments which are woven together to make us laugh and to relate with characters at the same time. The content of the film is refreshing, it doesn’t try to forcefully endorse its storytelling, the plot is familiar and simple in its structure. It’s predictable at most levels but doesn’t feel like it’s dragged.

Out of the many things that won’t leave you after the film’s watching, and probably one of its strongest points are the beautifully created shots of Taipei. The landscapes that are created in the film are done with an unparalleled craft, as Taipei never looked so better in films. The scenes have a high vibrant colour and the wet roads are in symmetry with lights of the city. It seems that the film wanted to replicate Paris when it comes to romance and it rightfully does so, other than the establishing shot of Taipei 101. Like the shot of Eiffel tower is used to portray Paris, the film refrains from popular places of Taipei and rather introduces us to the little lanes the quiet bookstore the busy night market, convenience stores, subways and endless lanes by the riverside. Rather than employing the usual formula of including popular places to film shines by showing us little known places but those which resonates with us.

The film’s editing deserves praise as the way so many characters as well as plots are brought in and resolved, under the short runtime is commendable. The narrative moves smoothly and much of the childishness and comedy is done by the bit parts such as the henchmen and the cop’s assistant.

The soundtrack is inspired from French tunes and its inspiration is quite evident, the film doesn’t shy away to refer to its sources of inspiration as well.

The film works because of its characters, who are ordinary people with normal behaviours stuck in situation, and the film is essentially about how these people, deal with situations. Barring the goofy henchmen, we see character’s which are relatable, sans the heroic and the villainous.

Director Arvin Chen has done a tremendous job of presenting such a simple and playful story in a beautiful way, be it the shots of Taipei, engaging characters, strong editing; the films ticks on all major levels as it avoids intense seriousness. The ending is beautiful and reasonable, it pats towards happiness of life and the message which the film tries to present is clear despite not being literal.