Marketed as a thematic sequel to the hugely popular Taiwanese coming-of-age romances You are the Apple of my Eye and Our Times, At Café 6 has neither predecessors’ charm nor wit. Presenting a generic mix of exaggerated humour and heart-wrenching melodrama – and failing to convince on either front – the film leaves viewers unsympathetic to the tender memories of youth it tries to recreate.
Adapted from director Neal Wu’s online novel of the same name, the movie opens with a late-night conversation about long distance relationships at the eponymous café, which soon shifts into the love story that evolves between high school prankster Guan Min Lu (Dong Zijian) and honour student Li Xin Rui (Cherry Ngan). As the pair graduate and move to universities at different ends of the country, so their relationship becomes trickier.
In addition to the almost entirely predictable plot, none of the characters are provided enough depth to add a unique flavour to the old routine they work. Owing to the film’s mixed financial backing from Hong Kong and the Mainland, the two lead characters aren’t actually Taiwanese and fail to exude a sense of familiarity in the collective Taiwanese memory they are trying to inhabit. Neither does the film pay enough attention to small details to create a convincing background for the story to unfold (were train tickets really so exorbitant in the 90s that Guan must constantly work nightshifts to be able to see his girlfriend?). Despite the uplifting performance of supporting actor Austin Lin, the film fails to create the warmth and humour of better Taiwanese romances. Things conclude with an out of the blue melodramatic twist that is bewildering rather than at-all moving.
“We all have a similar youth but end up leading different lives,” goes one line in the film. Perhaps it’s time Taiwanese directors realised we can have different stories of youth so that other explorations await. Mona Chu
Cast and crew