Written by Patrick Hao
Hollywood studios used to make romantic comedies – romantic comedies that would be delightful and stirring, and borderline problematic. But they’ve largely ceased making those except for the occasional films that go straight to streaming services and independent features. While Hollywood stopped churning out romantic comedies in favor of action blockbusters (supposedly aimed at international audiences), international cinema has been filling the void. My Missing Valentine, directed by Chen Yu-hsun, is exactly the film that Hollywood should be making and is simply not anymore.
My Missing Valentine, the Best Feature winner of Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards (the equivalent of the Oscars) is a whimsical magical realist romance. The film is split into two segments: “The Missing Person” and “The Missing Story.” The first segment is about Yang Hsiao-Chi (Patty Lee), a 30-year-old postal worker who is quite literally one step faster than everyone else. She wakes up right before her alarm rings, arrives to work early, and is always too fast for any rhythmic activity. She is a loner who on the day before Valentine’s Day is beginning to be wooed by a fitness instructor (Duncan Chou). They agree to a date on Valentine’s Day, but Yang Hsiao-Chi wakes up the morning after with a sunburn, her date disappearing, and no memory of the day ever happening. She tries to piece together the mystery from there.
Patty Lee imbues Hsiao-Chi with loads of charm. She and the world around her might be off-beat, but she is firmly rooted in humanity – something other “quirky” movies seem to forget to do. Chen directs the movie with tactile-ness that keeps the magical realism grounded as well. Every flight of fancy is seemingly done with in-camera tricks and simple but effective practical effects. Director Chen buoys all that with a gentle humor that mixes wordplay with slapstick.
The second segment shifts away from Yang Hsiao-Chi’s perspective to another character, A Tai (Liu Kuan-ting), a bus driver who is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Yang Hsiao-Chi. He is always one step too slow. To tell you more about A Tai’s arc is to give away some of the magic that unfolds in the film.
While more serious in tone, this segment does not relent on the whimsy. For many detractors, the second half of My Missing Valentine presents a problematic pedestaling of Hsiao-Chi, with a bit of incel behavior. But the fanciful nature and eastern spirituality at the undercurrent of the film assuages any sense of creepiness. It helps that the internal logic of the film stays so consistent within itself so that it all seams together coherently. This film is a souffle, in which one minor screw-up in the ingredients would deflate the whole thing. However, My Missing Valentine is a skillful blending of fantasy, romance, and comedy which create a delicate romantic comedy. One that Hollywood simply doesn’t make anymore.
My Missing Valentine Trailer