“Meeting Dr. Sun” – 2015 NYAFF Review


Of all the compliments one can pay to Yee Chih-Yen’s 2014 heist film “Meeting Dr. Sun,” subtly is not one of them. The film is a send-up of the caper genre, complete with an exaggerated plot and character gestures. Yee, however, stops short of a zany Looney Tunes-esque universe, making sure to ground the film in a seemingly mundane setting, a high school in Taipei.

The charming comedy opens with our hero Lefty (Zhan Huai-yun) playing catatonic while one of his classmates presses him to pay his “class fees.” We eventually find out why Lefty can’t pay, but not before Yee follows the opener with a montage of ever-embarrassing situations wherein his classmate publicly harangues Lefty. During one of these dodges, Lefty comes upon a statue, the title’s eponymous Dr. Sun Yat-sen – the founding father of the Republic of China (Taiwan) – and a scheme begins to percolate in the boy’s mind: steal the statue, sell it and live like a king, at least for a few weeks.

Lefty gathers his team, collects the necessary equipment and rehearses his plan. However, without warning, the discovery of a notebook containing a similar written plan to steal the statue throws a wrench into the works. Lefty’s gang doesn’t give up easily and they patiently wait for someone to pick up the carefully planted notebook. Eventually Lefty spots Sky (Wei Han-ting) grabbing it, and a comical cat and mouse game ensues, as Lefty does his best to follow Sky. Yee devotes a good chunk of screen time to a Tom and Jerry game of one-upmanship between the two that leads to a confrontation echoing the meeting between Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Heat (1995). Like that iconic meeting, the dialogue between the two comically devolves into a pissing match between which boy is the poorest. You can tell that these two boys will eventually be friends, but for now Sky regards Lefty as an obstacle to his plans. After fooling Lefty into believing that he had turned his former foe into a friend, Sky doesn’t miss a beat and quickly calls his pals to help him rob him of all his equipment. Little do they know that Lefty’s group isn’t down for the count yet.

As in all heist films, the centerpiece is the robbery and nothing ever goes as planned, particularly as several comical obstacles during the heist itself result in the two rivals working together to steal the statue. That said, “Meeting Dr. Sun” is more than just a clever genre exercise. It is a subversive film whose acerbic wit is utilized to illustrate how, if continually ignored and abused, the 99% will rise up and easily steal back what was rightfully taken from them.

“Meeting Dr. Sun” screens at the New York Asian Film Festival on Tues., June 30, at 8:30 p.m. at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.  Director Lee Chih-Yen is scheduled to appear at the screening.  For ticket information, go to filmlinc.com.