In "The Personals," Du (Rene Liu), a successful eye doctor living in Taiwan, takes out an ad announcing her desire for a husband. Receiving over one hundred responses, she begins her quest to find a mate. "The Personals" consists largely of her various meetings with potential suitors--some of whom are quite odd--along with conversations between her and an old professor, and a series of emotional phone calls she makes to an ex-lover.
Director/co-writer Chen Kuo-Fu takes his time in each scene. He uses long, generous takes with the camera trained on one person, resulting in miniature character studies that highlight the physical quirks his actors present during the period of a conversation. He also plays around a bit, sometimes choosing to focus instead on Du's reactions to what's being said. Liu has the gently inquisitive and perplexed gaze of Mary Stuart Masterson, her porcelain-pale face grinning nervously in disbelief or with curiosity at each new meeting. No matter how poorly it goes for Du, she takes something from each session--which seems to become the point. "The Personals" is a skilled compilation of moments, an unconventional film that ignores the standard story arc of first, second and third acts, creating a more free-floating, atmospheric appeal. Its script--based on a story by Chen Yu-Hui--is tight, and has a largely improvised feel that saves certain scenes from collapsing into forced melodrama or weirdness. The finished package resembles a short-film collection, celebrating the endless varieties of human behavior and complexity, while at the same time lamenting our often disparate natures, which may sometimes only seem so because the timing is off when two strangers meet for that awkward cup of coffee. Starring Rene Liu, Chin Shih-Chieh and Chen Chao-Jung. Directed by Chen Kuo-Fu. Written by Chen Kuo-Fu and Chen Shih-Che. Produced by Hsu Li-kong. A First Run release. Drama. Mandarin-language; subtitled. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 105 min.