Turn Left, Turn Right (2003)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-03-23
“Turn Left, Turn Right” is a delightful though conventional romantic comedy that fits the talents and appearances of its two stars perfectly. Gigi Leung and Kaneshiro Takeshi are so beautiful that we know they will wind up together at the end of the movie no matter what temporary obstacles the filmmakers throw in their way. Their physical beauty is played for all it is worth by cinematographers To Hung-Mo and Cheng Siu-Keung—they are always lit and framed perfectly. The entire technical team did a wonderful job with “Turn Left, Turn Right”: the set designer created adjoining apartments with a shared wall that allowed both stars to be in the same frame although separated from each other; the make-up people made Leung and Kaneshiro look ill—but still devastating—for much of the movie; the editing was spot on, particularly the cross-cutting between the two of them while their apartments or to underline how they were thinking of each other. Both John Liu and Eve Choi perform and interpret highly charged romantic European art—he is a violinist whose favorite piece is Edward Elgar’s “Six Very Easy Pieces” even though he makes his living playing in a restaurant, she translates German horror fiction into Chinese but wants to translate the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska whose work, at least the few lines presented here, sounds like it came straight from the nineteenth century. Both want to leave Taipei—actually leave Asian completely. He wants to play for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra while she realizes that she must move to New York City for her literary career to flourish. Meanwhile they pine away for each other while we watch events that they can’t control throw them together and pull them apart.

The theme of the individual as isolated and alone in a universe that is indifferent when not downright hostile, the loss of individuality emphasized by John and Eve knowing each other only as numbers, runs throughout the film. A somewhat more upbeat theme, that the course of true love is never smooth but that everyone has a soul mate and only needs to find him, difficult though that may seem, is also highlighted. This last, of course, is all but essential for this type of movie.

The conflict in many of the great romantic comedies, from “Taming of the Shrew” to “The Lady Eve” is between the main characters. Katharina and Peruchio really seemed to hate each other, while Jean Harrington and Charles Pike (the all but incomparable Barbara Stanwyk and Henry Fonda) make do with mutual disdain. In others there are class or cultural conflicts—“Sabrina” has mega-rich Linus Larabee (Humphrey Bogart) unable to woo the daughter of his chauffer, Sabrina Fairchild (Audrey Hepburn) and in “Desk Set” Spencer Tracy is the computer expert who will make Katherine Hepburn’s research department redundant. In “Turn Left, Turn Right” the lovers are obviously made for each other—both are gorgeous, talented, obviously destined for better things and know they are in love. The conflict here is that they don’t know must how close they actually are and each fears he has seen the other for the last time.

This is set up when John notices before Eve that Eve’s manuscript sheets are blowing into a fountain. He takes off his shoes, roles up his trousers and wades in to rescue them. In a credible only in the context of the movie coincidence the same thing happened years ago when they first met at a school outing. He was too embarrassed to follow up with her, was also extremely shy but finally got the courage to demand his phone number as he was getting off the train from the outing. Neither of them knew the other’s name, just the school numbers embroidered on their uniform shirts and when Eve left her handbag with John’s phone number on the train after her stop they weren’t able to connect again. Through fate, kismet or luck they meet in a lovely Taipei park—and also through fate have to separate still without knowing each other’s names and having exchanged phone numbers that are made indecipherable when soaked by a passing storm. They keep just missing each other when leaving from or returning to their apartments. The buildings have different doors but a common wall and as the title makes clear, each turns the wrong way when leaving.

There are some parallelisms that make clear the theme of soul mates finding each other. The first is the romance of the landlord and landlady—each has come to collect rent from the deadbeat tenants (John and Eve) without success. Both are old, overweight and unattractive but are able to respond to each other, perhaps realizing that their choices are limited and they need to make the most of them.

The other romance that blossoms is between Ruby and Dr. Wu. Ruby is obsessed with John while Dr. Wu has been captivated with Eve since she was a freshman in college. Eve convinces Dr. Wu that she has no feelings—or at least no positive feelings—toward him by throwing away everything he has touched in her apartment and John is able to dissuade Ruby by telling her that while she may think she loves him he certainly doesn’t love or even particularly like her. Dr. Wu is childish, whiny, petulant and unable to see any viewpoint other than his own while Ruby is rough, aggressive, demanding and takes over whatever space she is in. Both are ill-mannered and loud and are able to act with real cruelty when thwarted. Dr. Wu hired a private detective to follow and photograph Eve and when they discover that John is in every shot they send the pictures to them. Seeing proof that they have been in the same places at the same times (she walking on an overpass while he plays his violin on the sidewalk below, on the same subway car but facing different directions, at a huge public event with about 20 rows between them) both are frantic and redouble their efforts to find the other.

It doesn’t work, of course, although they get closer and closer. When they have given up and are on their way to the far corners of the earth—John to Vienna, Eve to New York City—a deus ex machina in the form of an earthquake finally allows them to see each other. This is a fitting and not completely unbelievable conclusion to the movie—Taiwan has experienced a number of quakes in the 1990s and 2000s—and brings the action to its foreordained ending, using the common wall between the adjoining buildings to good effect.

The screenwriters created a number of characters that the audience could empathize with—we could like them or dislike them (or both at different times) but they were strong enough that we had to react to them. Directors Johnnie To Kei-Fung and Wai Ka-Fai kept the action moving. The only time the movie dragged or seemed a bit off kilter was when John was auditioning for the VPO while Eve was interviewing for a job with a New York publisher. The audition/interview process stretched credulity too much and the connection between the two of them, once again underlined by cross-cutting between them, seemed forced and artificial. But that is my only real quibble with “Turn Left, Turn Right”. It is a tightly written, well directed movie with excellent sets, good but not intrusive edition and a number of very good performances.

Highly recommended particularly for those who like romantic comedy
Reviewer Score: 8