SHOULD I encourage my readers (who I assume to be de facto film enthusiasts) to watch a series so that they could share my annoyance with certain parts of the said film?
As it happened, it was not an irritant all the way. And that is what I wish to share with you: that a film or series can seem to start on a wrong foot but end with such aplomb and grace.
But let me go back to the episode that seduced me into watching this series, the first episode titled “Reality Dating Show.” A few minutes into the series, I told myself this could be very much like our own Pinoy Big Brother if the characters of that local reality were less cloying and better dressed.
The dating show takes place in a semi-controlled place. At certain points, the viewers get this sense that the camera as the meta-observer has disappeared and we are once more in a cinematic world. There are four applicants first. The four hit it off well and while there is always, it appears, an undercurrent of rivalry when you put lovely and cute women with two good-looking guys, the four are so squeaky clean, any abrasive conflict has been ruled out quick and fast. This is going to be a fairy tale where the narrative is told in the present era. A bit of cafe latte regular sophistication, with all the bright and pastel production design of pastry shops and toy stores.
The four are told that another person is coming. This is Chang Yung (Berant Zhu), who we see as working in a cafe. He becomes part of a household composed of Wei-ting (Gingle Wang), an entertainer who is shown first in an audition. When Wei Ting arrives at the New Tenants apartment, there are already three occupants. They are Chun-to (Yom Chang), a designer; Tzu-yin (Daisy Hsu), a dancer; and Kuo Sen (JC Lin), who introduces himself as Joe.
While the Chang Yung of Berant Zhu comes off as edgy and a bit dark, he compensates for it for his stunningly manly charm, rare in this universe of dolled-up male dolls, their skin more pallid than fair. And he proves to be the kick in this sweet cocktail of a presentation.
Together, they pull us into their conversations which while not deep (who expects treatises in this program?) are also not frothy. They are all natural onscreen until we hear the director’s “Cut” and we are brought back to the real reality: we are watching a scripted TV program. Or maybe not?
Wei-ting, for example, and Chun-to are the first to be interested with each other but when the camera stops, something about their relationship also ceases. Or maybe it is just a lull in the activity? Or are they better actors?
Chang Yung has to be real with his feelings and this upsets not just the woman who confesses her feelings for him, but the other men as well. There are also lovely moments when the behind-the-scenes staff are jolted because something happens in front of them that has not been planned. Do people really fall in love in front of the camera?
Constructed on the premise that love is inescapably still the greatest story to be told, the second episode does not prepare us for its sensual squalor. The Netflix press release describes this presentation as the story of two wounded souls.
“The Night in Question” is about that night when two individuals are caught in an unfortunate incident.
Chien Chien is a mother abandoned by her husband who holds her ATM card. She works as a masseuse at her home and does night shifts in another massage parlor to augment her income. Chun Pin is a delivery man who wears a hearing aid to help him with his impairment. In an accident, he hurts himself as he avoids running over a dog.
He goes to a massage parlor looking for a particular masseuse but ends up with another woman. He bargains for special services but his money is not enough. Thinking that whatever amount she receives will still be good, she agrees to have sex with Chun Pin. But a police raid ensues brought by a mad wife in search of her husband. They escape but soon meet again.
The story is old. The humor is predictable. And yet the story soars to unexpected heights of a real feel-good film. The secret is in the actors – sincere, warm and faces that are so open one is drawn into the characters they paint for us. Lau Chun Him as Chun Pin metamorphoses from this loser of a character to this handsome leading man at the end of the episode.
I only have reached the third episode of this ten-episode series. As with the previous episodes, the characters of the third episode are quirky and yet attractive. A cool hairdresser named Pei Ming is inside the train when an old woman steps in and finds that no one will offer her a seat. Our gallant gentleman goes out of his way to look for another passenger who can give up the seat for this aged lady. Pei Ming approaches one, Pao-Lin, who relents. She is a vlogger who turns out to be “blind.”
How can I talk about this episode without giving out spoilers? Let me just say that this episode tells us how lies and liars can be both annoying and alluring. We tell lies to each other and, most of the time, lies allow us to live through this hell of a social media universe. The ending: it looks like it is going to be a happy one. And that sucks!
Now streaming on Netflix, At the Moment was filmed with the pandemic as backdrop. Except for the masks and the news about the pandemic, the lockdown remains a token theme.