At The Movies: My Missing Valentine is a winning romance, while Freaky brings fresh blood to slasher flick

A still from Taiwanese film My Missing Valentine featuring Patty Lee (left) and Liu Kuan-ting. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

My Missing Valentine

PG, 120 minutes, opens Nov 12

4 stars

This Taiwanese romantic comedy opens with a montage summarising the odd life of Hsiao-chi (Patty Lee), born with an internal clock that ticks too quickly.

In school, she is eliminated from sports competitions because she has a habit of starting before the whistle. Now a grown-up, she is about to enter her 30s untouched by romance. Her job at the counter of a post office looks unlikely to net her a companion.

Then a kind and handsome customer, Wenson (Duncan Chou), chats with her and asks the astounded Hsiao-chi for a date on Valentine's Day. She is overjoyed but awakens the day after the holiday with no recollection of the previous 24 hours. Distraught, she digs into why the day that could have changed her life seems to have vanished.

Writer-director Chen Yu-hsun has taken bits of his favourite films and assembled them into a rich, rewarding work.

Hsiao-chi, a conflicted woman who is curious but shy, lonely and yet afraid of contact, brings to mind the title character of French comedy Amelie (2001). The gentle humour is married to the fantastical whimsy of Japanese anime, seen especially in a second-act dream sequence involving talking animals.

This sort of visually ambitious, genre-bending film-making is rare these days, and even rarer still is its maturity of vision and tastefulness. It comes as no surprise that this has earned 11 Golden Horse nominations - the most of any film this year and including Best Sound Effects and Best Original Screenplay.


A still from the movie Freaky starring Kathryn Newton and Vince Vaughn. PHOTO: UIP

Two versions - NC16 and M18 - available, 102 minutes, opens Nov 12

3 stars

It began in 2017 with Happy Death Day and the 2019 sequel Happy Death Day 2U. Both movies, directed and co-written by American film-maker Christopher Landon, took an iconic story premise - the recurring day of Groundhog Day (1993) - then set a killer from a slasher film loose in it.

The trend carries on in Landon's new film, whosetitle bears a cheeky nod to the story that gets slasher-ised. Freaky Friday is the body-swop comedy that Disney thrice adapted for the screen, though many other pictures have stolen its key idea in part or in whole. For example, the hugely popular anime Your Name (2016) took the switched-minds idea and put it in a romance set during an apocalyptic event.

Body-swop pictures tend to be morality tales about empathy - a white racist learns what it feels like to be black, a teen upset at her mother understands why the latter is the way she is.

In Freaky, when bullied high-schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton) switches places with serial killer the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn), the set-up is exploited for comic thrills rather than life lessons.

To be sure, there is a lot of fun to be had when Millie, possessed by the mind of a maniac, goes from meek to murderous. It is as if she has gained superpowers, a fact her tormentors at school discover too late.

With two ratings available in Singapore - NC16 or M18 - viewers can select the level of cathartically violent delight that is right for them.

Landon and company take less care with the flipside of the picture.

Vaughn, as the 1.96m 50-year-old man whose body is taken over by a shy teenage girl, fails to convince - due largely to writing that relies on contrivance rather than being driven by character and acting. He ends up lapsing into the kind of mincing some men do when they cross-dress.


A still from the movie Monsoon starring Henry Golding (foreground) and Parker Sawyers. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

M18, 86 minutes, opens Nov 12

2 stars

This attempt at depicting the emotional journey of an ethnic Vietnamese journeying from the West to his parental home is turgid when it should have been thoughtful, vague when it should have been concrete.

Kit (British actor Henry Golding) is in Ho Chi Minh City to scatter the ashes of his parents, who fled Vietnam for the United Kingdom after the war. He reconnects with childhood friend Lee (David Tran) as well as meets new ones, such as the American Lewis (Parker Sawyers), who becomes his lover, and local woman Linh (Molly Harris).

Kit is a tourist, having been away from Vietnam as a child. Everything is new to him, yet it is not. He walks in a land of ghosts - of the historical, cultural and personal sort.

Those ghosts nip at his heels - for example, when he speaks to Lee and Linh. Lee is a happy family man with deep roots in the country while Linh seeks to do right as a traditional daughter while working towards freedoms her mother never enjoyed.

British film-maker Hong Khaou, whose Chinese-Cambodian parents settled in the UK after escaping conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, makes Kit's journey one of self-discovery - about himself as a gay man and a son of Asian immigrants living in the West.

The story externalises Kit's internal struggle in dialogue and in wide shots the pensive traveller standing alone against the hubbub of the city, but Khaou's reluctance to dramatise the conflict makes this a slow, frustrating watch.



PG13, 86 minutes, opens Nov 12

Not reviewed

In this work of horror, a woman Gail (Radha Mitchell) marries and gains a stepson, Josh (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong). He steals an object of great spiritual power, unleashing demonic forces in their home.

Horizon Line

NC16, 92 minutes, opens Nov 12

Not reviewed

Sara (Allison Williams) and Jackson (Alexander Dreymon) are a couple headed to a destination wedding on a remote tropical island on a small chartered airplane. When the pilot has a heart attack, the passengers, neither of whom are trained as pilots, must take the controls or risk crashing into the sea.

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