Written by Tinzar Lwyn
Set in a confined pawn shop, with a colourful menagerie of ill-fated clientele, writer-director Hsiao Ya-Chuan’s first feature, Mirror Image (2000), is a stylish and exuberant exploration of fate, destiny and identity. Garnering a host of accolades including Best First Feature Film (Torino 2001) and the Grand Prix at Fukuoka Asian Film Festival (2001), Hsiao’s debut signalled the rise of a significant talent. With the addition of his mentor, Hou Hsiao-Hsien as Executive Producer, the film’s pedigree was secured. And despite the involvement of a doyen of Taiwanese cinema, director Hsiao managed to find his own clear voice.
With stylised use of graphics and referencing palmistry and astrology, Mirror Image playfully questions fate and destiny’s role in creating a future self. Using imagery of a tree with its underground root system, the film alludes to the formation of identity through the subjugation of an unrealised, other self - a subterranean reflection or mirror image. It is at this liminal edge, that the plot tetters and the characters cavort.
Our smouldering protagonist Lin Tung-Ching (played by Lee Jiunn-Jye) serves out his days in a dusty pawn shop, overflowing with artefacts of other’s misfortune. Believing he himself has escaped destiny, since an accident obliterated the fate line on his right palm, Tung-Ching rails against life’s limits. A web designer by profession, he is forced to work in the family business after his father suffers a stroke. Lucky for Tung-Ching, a recent dalliance with an exuberant young nurse and palm reader, Eiko (played by Fan Hsiao-Fan ) helps alleviate the boredom of work and adult responsibility. As the couple ‘pass time’ in the claustrophobic workplace, the plot pits their youthful nihilism against a stodgy tradition, marked by monotony, predictability and hard work. Our reckless hero and his impetuous girlfriend run amok in the pawn shop. Their hedonistic existence feels like freedom, until Tung-Ching stumbles on another love interest, dubbed “Know All” (played by Era Wang ), at which point Eiko feels like a ‘ball and chain’ – a limit.
The territory that our characters inhabit is an interior landscape, without sunlight. Director Hsiao and Production Designer Hua Wen-Ying use a palette dominated by an unsettling green, that never materialises into anything organic. And within this inorganic environment, the performances hit a perfect, nuanced pitch. Hsiao secures a careless, youthful energy from Fan, a poised cool from Wang and restrained emotional intensity from Lee. While Cinematographer Lin Tse-Chung frames the drama in sassy angles, extreme close-ups and long, elegant tracking shots full of narrative clues. Edited by Chou Chia-Chun, Mirror Image is slick and compelling in it pacing. Its youthful cool is enhanced by the jazzy piano and Latin beats of Hou Chih-Chien’s irresistible score.
Hsiao Ya-Chuan’s debut offer, Mirror Image revels in the subterranean grit. More aligned to the visceral effect of a Wong Kar-Wai film, than the cerebral elegance of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Mirror Image’s affect is corporeal, the film gets under your skin.