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At Cafe 6 (2016) (Blu-ray) (2-Disc Special Limited Edition) (Hong Kong Version)
Dong Zi Jian (Actor) | Cherry Ngan (Actor) | Ou Yang Ni Ni (Actor) | Austin Lin (Actor)
At Cafe 6 (2016) (Blu-ray) (2-Disc Special Limited Edition) (Hong Kong Version)
Nostalgic tales of first love, loss and high school memories continue to be popular in the Taiwan film industry, At Café 6 following in the footsteps of hits like You Are The Apple Of My Eye, Our Times and many others. The film was eagerly awaited by fans, having been adapted from the popular novel by Hiyawu, who makes his directorial debut here under his real name, Neal Wu, and boasting a cast of up and coming young talent including Dong Zijian (Mountains May Depart), Cherry Ngan (The Way We Dance) and Austin Lin (The Missing Piece).

The film opens in the present day, with a café owner (Leon Dai, The Final Master) relating a story from his past to a woman (Sandrine Pinna, Touch of the Light) who comes in to shelter from the rain after a fight with her boyfriend. Things jump back to the mid-1990s, following the story of Kaohsiung high school student Guan Min Lu (Dong Zijian), who spends most of his days getting up to hijinks with his best friend Xiao Bai Zhi (Austin Lin). Min Lu harbours a secret love for classmate Xin Yi (Cherry Ngan), a girl quite his opposite, being smart and having ambitious hopes for the future. Despite their differences, the two fall in love, though their relationship is put to the test when Xin Yi heads off to Taipei while Min Lu and Bai Zhi stay put.

The main challenge facing Neal Wu with At Café 6 is differentiating his film from You are the Apple of my Eye, Our Times, Café. Waiting. Love. and all the recent others in what’s a fairly homogenous genre, a task not helped by some suspiciously similar posters and marketing. The film certainly does stick to the formula in both narrative and theme, giving the target audience what they want in terms of tears, nostalgia, romance and more tears, and with plenty of clichéd scenes of high school wistfulness, Wu showing very little desire to add anything new. To be fair, the film does make an effort to take things more seriously as it progresses, exploring the difficulties of long distance relationships and offering a mature look at the harsh reality of people growing apart, and this gives it a little more substance than some of its peers. A few points are also won for the fact it becomes increasingly bitter rather than sweet, and Wu succeeds in making some painful observations about life and love.

At the same time, the film doesn't quite hang together, which might undermine its effectiveness for some viewers. Chief reason for this is the fact that Xin Yi never seems as keen on Min Lu as he does on her, their relationship coming across as pretty one-sided and him having to make all the sacrifices to keep things going once they’re living apart – although the film is set in a time before social media and the internet were widespread, Kaohsiung and Taipei are really not that far apart, making the 'long distance' element seem less dramatic than it might have been. Similarly, although Wu's attempts at serious drama are creditable, the last act is very rushed, packing in lots of sudden revelations, character developments and heavy content, giving short-shift to what would have been better served by a touch of patience and foreshadowing. As a result, while the film is moving and will likely elicit at least some of the tears it’s trying so hard to wring from viewers, its final twists come as more of a slap to the face than an honest and earned emotional gut-punch.

Wu makes up for this by making sure the film ticks most of the other genre boxes, with a solid recreation of 1990s high school life that should get fans appropriately misty eyed, doing well enough for a first time director. A pleasant soundtrack also helps, as does a good balance between drama and humour, Austin Lin getting most of the sharp lines in the best friend role, earning himself a Best Supporting Actor gong at the 2016 Golden Horse Awards in the process. While the chemistry between Dong Zijian and Cherry Ngan doesn't exactly electrify, the two leads are both perfectly likeable and photogenic, and their rocky romance should prove engaging for audiences with a taste for this kind of thing.

This sums up At Café 6 quite appropriately, as it's a film clearly made with a definite demographic in mind, and is unlikely to appeal to anyone who doesn't enjoy this kind of nostalgia-steeped romantic drama. For its type, while not as good as current genre favourites You are the Apple of my Eye and Our Times, there's plenty here to entertain the converted, and the film stands as a perfectly respectable debut for Neal Wu.

by James Mudge -

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