Tempering the transgressive spirit of Almodovar with the innocent fantasies of Taiwanese teen melodrama, the girl-on-girl romance Spider Lilies is a watchable but rather lightweight follow-up to Zero Chou's well-received 2004 debut Splendid Float.
With its casting of Taiwanese pop icon and TV personality Rainie Yang as co- star, opposite major Hong Kong talent Isabella Leong, the film is making a determined pitch for the wider, more youth-oriented end of the Far Eastern arthouse market.
There has been strong interest in this title from buyers outside Asia, but the film's overt sentimentality and aesthetics is unlikely to endear it to the sort of cineastes that lap up the output of Taiwanese auteurs like Tsai Ming-liang, and more commercial audiences will be put off by the sluggish pacing.
Spider Lilies looks to have more of a chance of distribution on specialised Asian circuits in the US and elsewhere, and a healthy afterlife in DVD and online formats.
The more sordid side of the internet is a recurrent theme of contemporary Asian cinema. In Kim Ki-duk's Samaria, two schoolgirls sold themselves via online chat rooms; here, pouting, cutesy under-age charmer Jade (Rainie Yang) has set up a webcam service in the apartment she shares with her elderly grandma - who, in one hilarious scene, wanders into the webcam frame.
We soon realise, though, that Jade is living in a fantasy world. Her webcam boudoir is a tiny island of colour and exoticism in a dingy flat with mould on the walls, and her simpering, bubbly persona masks a deep past trauma.
Meanwhile, quiet, melancholy Takeko (Isabella Leong) is shown tattooing a teen punk customer in her upmarket parlour. Her backstory is brought out through a series of flashbacks, repeated insistently in case we missed anything: when Takeko's father was crushed to death in an earthquake, her brother Ching was severely trauamatised and lost his ability to recognise people, even his sister. Takeko blames herself, as at the time of the quake she was in bed with her first girlfriend.
When Jade walks into her shop and demands a tattoo, Takeko is smitten, but her feelings are complicated by guilt and by the fact that Jade wants a spider-lily tattoo - like the one framed on the wall of the parlour, which Takeko cut from the flesh of her dead father's arm.
The bright colours of costumes, sets and props (like Jade's green wig, or the yellow tiger-lilies that are brought to life with CGI animation), the musical-style lighting and the sentimental electronic soundtrack appear to place us squarely in fantasy-melodrama land. Similarly, the script's over-elaborate back story does not always translate into real depth of character.
But in her magnetic take on Jade, Rainie Yang takes this superficiality and runs with it, making her character strangely compelling. Oddly poetic for all its pop video values, Spider Lilies is a curio that sits a little uncomfortably between the teen lesbian niche and the arthouse.
The 3rd Vision Films Ltd
Three Dots Entertainment