Right now, with the sheer number of coming-of-age teen dramas with voice-overs about self-discovery released every day on OTT platforms, it seems like there’s not much room for originality. What’s interesting is that Love In Taipei isn’t even about teenagers; the protagonist, Ever Wong (Ashley Liao), is actually 21 when she’s forced into summer school by her parents. Immigrant Taiwanese Ever is weighed down by parental expectations and pursuing her own dreams. Nothing new there, but her self-aware journey begins when she goes to Taipei for a summer of what she thinks is more studying than fun but quickly learns otherwise. It’s true that there’s only so much you can expect from such a story, but what I found lacking was the exploration of Taiwanese culture. Funnily enough, Ever has gone to learn Mandarin, how to make dumplings, and, so to speak, her own culture. But still, somehow, all I can remember after seeing the film is all the kids wanting to go out clubbing every day. Of course, Ever learns to embrace her identity, but it never seemed like she had a problem with it; it was just not her first priority.
Ever is shipped off to Taipei on what is unofficially called the “Love Boat,” but it is actually a 3-week-long summer program for Chinese and Taiwanese college-aged kids to learn a little bit about their culture. She meets rich and cool Sophie Ha (Chelsea Zhang), who immediately charms her way into Ever’s boring expectations of this summer program. Her cousin Rick is the smartest heartthrob in town who Ever knows of because he’s been appearing in the World Journal for the last how many ever years. Ever’s mother always kept his clippings around for inspiration. What seemed like a boring summer of studying when Ever just wanted to dance became something much more fun, angsty, and appealing. While Ever does feel the fish-out-of-water feelings, mostly she realizes everyone around her is just like she is. Ever unfurls like a beautiful lily through her experience at Love Boat, but of course, conflict is inevitable. With the Taipei nightscape in the background and a lot of delicious street food, Ever expands her views on life and begins to step away from her parents’ expectations.
As a non-Asian American, I can’t speak for the experience of young Taiwanese kids heading to what should be their home country yet feels like a foreign land, but I can admit this kind of theme has become a repeated pattern in film today. Let’s talk about XO, Kitty, it’s essentially the same exact story, but she’s Korean. There’s always a bunch of boys swooning over the protagonist and a surrealistic disdain for culture, but considering how desperate parents are to have their children be more, well, Asian, you wouldn’t think the kids would be so divorced from this part of their identity in 2023. People have come far from what it was like about 20 years ago, when such a story was easy to digest. Again, I’m not one to say this, but I just feel like there can be some new kinds of themes explored in these shows and movies. Maybe love triangles are kind of boring now. Of course, on the other hand, the great thing is that 3/3 of the triangle is actually Asian.
On the positive side, we get to see this talented cast do a great job and look fantastic as ever. We never thought we’d be seeing Ross Butler play a 21-year-old again, but here we are. The story is quick-paced and cuts to less than 90 minutes, which may be the reason it feels a little underdeveloped. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I believe the movie takes it down a few notches in terms of exploring the themes and shenanigans of the Love Boat, but this way, this film works better for a younger audience without being problematic. At the same time, here’s another Asian city explored through the lens of a rom-com that may get people interested or make them feel seen at the same time. For fear of sounding hypocritical, I think there’s always room for more coming-of-age rom-coms; Love In Taipei can just be an addition to a very long list. But is it memorable? In all honesty, I don’t think so. I think the cast is really good, and there’s this one particular chain of dialogue that could be taken out of context, but with the numerous other pieces of content that resemble the same patterns and the fact that it’s Paramount+, it’s a little less Crazy Rich Asians, if you know what I mean.
Love In Taipei is a sweet and somewhat naive interpretation of young adult lives, and it’s fun. It still follows very many typical teen flick tropes and character arcs that may be boring to some but also feel accepting to others considering the racial line of things. It’s definitely a good sleepover movie that makes you want to dress up and go out and explore your city with your best friends, if nothing else. Sometimes you just need a small positive boost. What this movie struggles to represent is Ever’s inner turmoil between choosing her own dreams over her parents dreams, which parallels her experience of feeling lost in her own identity. It sounds much more difficult than it looks on film, and I think that’s why she feels like a withdrawn character. This newfound freedom should be quite deep or emotional, but it comes across as a more shallow take on Ever’s very difficult thoughts.
Ultimately, I can say I just had higher expectations from Love In Taipei in terms of culture, the sights of Taiwan, or even the exploration of this fear of disappointing your parents while still trying to forge your own path. I’d give this movie 2.5 out of 5 stars because it just feels surface-level at this point, but I look forward to more work by this cast.