By Erin Chew
Cultural and language immersion programs are quite common in Asia as an opportunity for Western Asians to learn a language and to adapt and appreciate a culture that forms part of their identity. This is the focal point in the film Love in Taipei, a love letter to all Westerners with Taiwanese heritage seeing Taiwan for the first time and risking it all to adapt and live that life, in a bid to find a sense of belonging.
For Taiwanese American director Arvin Chen, who now works as a filmmaker in Taiwan, this idea of cultural immersion is something he is able to identify with. Having little Mandarin when he first arrived in Taiwan over a decade ago, Chen had his struggles fitting in and finding his place in Taiwan’s bourgeoning entertainment industry.
“It was very tricky when I first arrived in Taiwan. I had some Mandarin speaking skills, but not really as I couldn’t put together proper sentences. That was a big hurdle. The other struggle I had was getting into Taiwan’s film industry as it was a very small community a decade ago, so I was essentially an outsider who had to prove my worth. Thinking back, I am now in the community and have enjoyed my experience working from the outside to now being part of the in-crowd”, Chen mentioned in a recent interview with AsAmNews.
Love in Taipei is based on the novel, Loveboat, Taipei, by Abigail Hing Wen. The Loveboat is a real program that in many ways is a summer language and cultural immersion school, touted as the Overseas Compatriot Youth Taiwan Study Tour to Taiwan. Having existed since the 1960s, the Loveboat is where overseas Taiwanese and Chinese go to learn cultural practices such as calligraphy, fan dancing, speaking Mandarin, etc. Wen attended one of these Loveboat programs, which she described as a fun summer where she made many friends and learned a lot about her cultural identity. The program received its nickname Loveboat because of the many who find their spouses in the program.
“It was definitely an experience of a lifetime. As a Taiwanese American, growing up, I was always confused about my identity and participating in this program solidified it all. I made many friends and met other overseas Taiwanese youths who had already immersed themselves and adapted to Taiwan and could show me the nightlife and the markets. This is what inspired me to write my novel which is my love letter to Taiwan”, Wen expressed.
Love in Taipei stars Ashley Liao (Physical, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) as Ever Wong, whose summer takes an unexpected turn when her parents surprise her with a trip to Taipei for a cultural immersion program. Ever is surprised to discover that she hasn’t signed up for homework and history lessons, but instead for a summer-long free-for-all the locals and other students call Loveboat.
In addition to Liao, Love in Taipei, also stars Ross Butler (Shazam! Fury of the Gods, To All The Boys franchise) as Rick Woo, a prominent sports and scholastic prodigy; Nico Hiraga (Booksmart, Moxie) as Xavier Yeh, a free-spirited artist and heir to an international tech empire and Chelsea Zhang (Daybreak, Titans) as Ever’s friend Sophie, whom she meets at Loveboat.
A very awesome cast indeed. The actors played their roles well and added complexity and dimension to the characters and the story. The cast was a major conversation point for Chen who mentioned that Butler came onto the project before he became the director and his job was to cast a wide net to find the right people to fill the shoes of Ever, Xavier and Sophie.
“I wanted to find actors who could show their charisma and have a sense of fun within them. Ross already had all that and it was a matching process for us to find Ashley, Nico and Chelsea. They were able to portray the sweetness of Taiwanese Americans going and seeing Taiwan for the first time. When looking for people to fill the roles, I didn’t just want famous names, but it was more important to find the most suitable candidates who could portray the essence of the Loveboat programs”, Chen discussed.
In the film both Rick and Xavier fall in love with Ever’s quirky charms and strong personality. This is another film that shows Asian men as romantic leads, contributing to changing the negative and outdated stereotypes that Asian men are less attractive and are not relationship material. Wen acknowledged this issue and stated that presenting Asian men as strong romantic leads was extremely important to her and she added that Ever being a strong Asian woman also dispels the negative stereotypes which surround Asian women.
“To see positive portrayals of both Asian men and women is extremely important to me. As an author and the executive producer for the film, this was a non-negotiable thing because I wanted the book and film to shape culture and show that we all fall in love regardless of our race and we are not just a stereotype. Depicting Asian Americans as love interests isn’t creating something new, but it is truth-telling of our community. Portraying Asian men as attractive and Asian women as strong and not demure is who we are and always have been”, Wen stated.
In addition to the main cast, Love in Taipei also stars Cindy Cheung as Aunt Shu, Janet Hsieh as Aunt Claire and Sharon Kwan as Laura.
Love in Taipei will be released on Paramount + on August 10, 2023.
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