Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival: Nina Wu pushed to the edge in patriarchal film industry

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      From the very beginning, Nina Wu feels like a film about a woman on the edge. It opens with a dizzying shot inside a tunnel. Then fully five minutes pass without a single word as a solitary Taipei livestream girl rides the train, glumly walks home, lifelessly boils some chicken, and applies her makeup. Only when she answers the phone does her face light up with any warmth.

      Later, in a large but empty restaurant, Nina Wu's agent tells her that she's had no film role in six years—just shorts and ads. But she could audition for a major role. However, it will require full-frontal nudity. 

      The lead character, played by Taiwanese actor Wu Ke-Xi, seems torn. Eventually, she wins the lead in a 1960s-era spy thriller. 

      From there, Myanmar-born Taiwanese film director Midi Z reveals series of plot twists.

      These are accompanied by a breathtaking array of camera angles, including many extreme wide shots, that reinforce the lead character's instability and sense of isolation.

      Wu, who wrote the screenplay, remains utterly compelling throughout—deeply troubled with plenty of mood swings—while leaving the source of her angst a mystery.  

      Video: Watch the trailer for Nina Wu.

      At times, Nina Wu feels like the1980 U.S. film The Stunt Man, on other occasions, it's reminiscent of the 2010 dance thriller Black Swan.

      Wu, who was also the screenwriter, comes across as utterly authentic in the title role. The acting feels so real—and the horrors on-set so compelling—it's easy to imagine that this #Me-Too story might be grounded in experience.

      Taiwanese actor Shih Ming-shuai also shines as the unpredictable and volcanic director. And Nina Wu's friend, Kiki (played by Vivian Sung), offers a warm and sensible contrast.

      There are also plenty of scenes with women, including Nina Wu, wearing blood-red dresses. But don't kid yourself. Nina Wu is anything but a Taiwanese version of Pretty Woman. This film has more in common with the real-life story of Harvey Weinstein.

      The 14th annual Vancouver Taiwanese Film Festival has moved online this year and is completely free. For more information and to register for panel discussions, visit the website. NIna Wu screens on Sunday (September 20).