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      The Personals
    Personal problems

    "The Personals" is a deceptively thoughtful and emotional comedy about a woman on a series of blind dates, each one worse than the one before.


    A lovely young woman sits at a table in a Taipei teahouse waiting for her blind date. When he shows up, unlike most of the men who have answered her personal ad, he's boyishly handsome and articulate. He does boast of being a big drinker, but she wants to give him a chance.

    Original title: 征婚啟事.
    Directed by: Chen Guofu.
    Written by: Chen Guofu and Chen Shijie.
    Cast: Rene Liu, Bai Wu, Chen Chaozhong, Gu Baoming, Qin Shijie.
    Cinematography: He Nanhong.
    In Mandarin with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    "Besides drinking, you must have some other hobbies," she prods.

    "Oh yes," he answers. "Besides drinking I like to watch adult movies!"

    Not knowing when to shut up, he goes on to describe many of the erotic varieties in adult movies, while the poor woman stares with a look of concealed disgust, as if she's just eaten dirt at a formal dinner. It's a look she displays regularly in "The Personals," a funny and ultimately dramatic film about a Taiwanese woman's misadventures with the personal ads.

    Among the other hilarious Mr. Wrongs: one who wears a fake beard and pretends to have a limp, several mama's boys, a foot fetishist mainly interested in her shoes, a self-defense salesman mainly interested in selling her a cattle prod.

    There are laughs — and a few painfully sad moments — throughout the woman's series of blind dates. But as the film progresses, we realize increasingly that the woman is hiding some serious emotional pain of her own, and it's not a simple comedy after all. At the beginning of the film, before quitting her job as an ophthalmalogist, she explains to a patient that the eyes shed tears for two reasons: "One is to provide liquid to moisten the surface of the eye; the other is to display emotion." At the time, this seems like clinical talk, but it also suggests that there will be more to this woman's story.

    Besides poking fun at men and slowly revealing the woman's own story, "The Personals" brings out some interesting thoughts about the personals. The men who answer the ads know nothing about her — in fact, they seem to have deliberately ignored the small amount of information that she's given in her ad. Each of them comes on the date out of desperation for a woman, any woman — whether they want to marry her immediately, save themselves from their own drab lives, sell her something, or use her body for their own gratification. They come to the date not to get to know her, only to use her. They assume she is even more desperate or she wouldn't have placed the ad.

    Maybe this is in the nature of the blind date, because it brings two strangers together suddenly — blank slates with no personal history and no emotional scars for the moment. The blind-daters invest each other with idealized hopes that can be maintained only so long before their real selves start showing through like the stuffing of a worn sofa. Or maybe this is just a statement about the perception of women in Taiwan. Either way, "The Personals" is a little like a blind date — sometimes charming, sometimes difficult, never revealing too much at once, and always leaving you with plenty to think about afterwards about what you've just seen.

    JANUARY 14, 2001

    Reader comments on The Personals:

  • Thoughts on your review   from Wacow, Mar 4, 2004

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