Screened at Berlin (Competition)

Dir: Lin Cheng-sheng. Taiwan-China-France. 2000. 106mins.

Young people struggling to find a meaningful life in the urban sprawl of Asian megacities like Taipei and Beijing is not a new premisefor a film, but Lin Cheng-sheng's Betelnut Beauty is a standoutnonetheless. Fully deserving the best director award it received at Berlin, itis the most mainstream and accessible of Lin's films (of which Murmur OfYouth and Sweet Degeneration are the most memorable), which bodeswell for its international prospects.

BetelnutBeauty is a sweetlove story set in Taipei. Xiao-feng (Chang) has just finished military servicewhen he accidentally encounters feisty beauty Fei-Fei (Sinje) in the streetduring a summer rainstorm. Fei-Fei has run away from home and, with Yili (Kuo),who is herself on the run from former boyfriend and gang leader Tiger (Dai),works as a street seller of betelnuts, a legal but slightly narcotic kind ofnut. The girls use any means necessary to sell their wares, including flashingtheir thighs to passing truckers and taxi drivers.

The loveaffair of Fei-fei and Feng develops and they move in together. He toils by dayin a bakery while she dreams of ditching the day job to become a singer. She issoon fulfilling her dreams, but has to watch as Feng is lured into a life ofcrime by a member of Tiger's gang.

The acting iscompelling (particularly Malaysian singing star Sinje, who recently scooped thePiper Heidsieck New Talent Award), largely thanks to director Lin's surehandling. The director again demonstrates a visual flair that never overwhelmsthe simple storyline and displays a finely-tuned sense of humour throughout.The solid soundtrack of songs will appeal mostly to Asian audiences. BetelnutBeauty is one of producer Peggy Chiao's Tales Of Three Citiesseries, which includes the Silver Bear-winning Beijing Bicycles.

Prod cos: ArcLight Films (Taipei), Pyramide. Prods (Paris) in association with PublicTelevision Service Foundation, Eastern Television, Asiatic Films. Int'l sales:Flach Pyramide . Prods: Peggy Chiao, Hsu Hsiao-ming. Exec prod: Karen Wu. Scr:Lin Cheng-sheng. Cinematography: Han Yun-chong. Prod des: Hsai Shao-yu. Ed:Liao Ching-song. Music:A-Ji, The Chairman. Main cast.:Chang Chen, Sinje, LeonDai, Tsai Chen-nan, Kao Ming-chun, Kelly Kuo, Tsai Chao-yi