Arvin Chen’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” – 2013 HKIFF Review

In 2010, Taiwanese American director Arvin Chen’s feature debut, “Au Revoir Taipei,” emerged as a film festival darling despite its lack of stars headlining the delightfully awkward romantic comedy. Three years later, the USC-trained, Edward Yang-mentored Chen now has a tough act to follow: surpassing the success of his auspicious beginning.

Revealing a growing maturity in his filmmaking, Chen does just that with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” which makes its Asian premiere at the 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival. His sophomore effort retains many of the charming qualities that made “Au Revoir Taipei” so successful: the lilting orchestral score, the gentle humorous pokes in sticky situations, the wide-eyed innocent qualities of his characters no matter how much pain they inflict.

However, while “Au Revoir” was a sweet boy-meets-girl story doubling as a love letter to the Taiwanese capital, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” has a couple of fundamental differences. It deals with much more grown-up topics, such as marriage, homosexuality and child rearing, and tackles these by enlisting a couple of veterans to play the husband and wife leads. Richie Ren (Weichung) deals with a secret past while Mavis Fan (Feng) seems to have everything she wants – career, kid, marriage – but is exceedingly unhappy. Their young son, no doubt affected by the strained relationship, is considered a recluse, a reality that Feng’s displeased parents hope to alter by demanding a second grandchild. An intersecting side story is that of Weichung’s sister Mandy who, in the opposite approach to her brother, is backing off from marriage as the solution to her happiness, leaving her poor fiancé San San to figure out how to pick up the pieces.

Such heavy responsibilities lead to difficult choices, and what makes Chen’s second feature more compelling is that these decisions are not neatly packaged in a gift-wrapped box. He manages to accomplish this while retaining what may become his signature style, lightly drawing chuckles over what could otherwise be conventionally-crafted situations, such as when Mandy cries over a Korean TV drama or Weichung’s boss bids adieu to the working world after promoting him. Yet Chen knows when to stop the storyline from becoming too cute or stereotypical, particularly in the scenes featuring one of Weichung’s gay friends played by Lawrence Ko who, like in “Au Revoir Taipei,” plays a similar scene-stealing supporting role with abandon. As a result, the film’s moral rings loud and clear: while life is not perfect, it is never too late to make a change, especially if it is better to do so with negative short-term consequences versus staying silent and suffering in the long term.

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” makes its Asian premiere at the 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival. It screens Tues., Mar. 26, at 7:15 p.m. HKT and again on Thurs., Mar. 28, at 9:45 p.m.