Lucky Number Seven: The Grabbing Hands Grab All They Can in Lee Hong-Chi’s Debut
Working as both a crime film (non-gangster former life) and drama-soaked poetic rendering of suspended time, there is plenty to admire in the directorial debut of fresh-faced Taiwanese actor turned filmmaker Lee Hong-Chi. Best known for his turns in Cities in Last Things and Long Day’s Journey into the Night (both 2018 films), Love Is A Gun certainly borrows in terms of aestheticism and murky crime world parameters in what amounts to be a moody, yet light portrait. Co-written along with Lin Cheng Hsun, the film proposes a snapshot of how economic strains for this pocket of Taiwanese youth is the nouveau death scrolling — an empty collective existence not concerned with tomorrow and in some cases crushed with mounting debt. Channeling ethereal qualities akin to Lee Chang-dong’s Burning and some portraits crafted by Jia Zhang-ke, this film encapsulates the sensation of perpetually treading water, never breaking free from its embrace.
Despite persistent admonishments and the looming splendour of the inescapable “lifestyle,” Sweet Potato, portrayed by Lee Hong-Chi, finds solace in the simple life of running a small business by the sea. His meager earnings bestow upon him a sense of contentment, but the tranquillity he clings to stands poised for imminent collapse. This foreboding destiny is foreshadowed in the film’s opening sequence, as Sweet Potato, fresh from his incarceration, grapples with a series of deeply annoying moments – when asked what does for a living its best to avoid the question altogether – the new circumstances just as blush-worthy as his former life. These encounters, including those with a status-obsessed ex-girlfriend, serve as stark reminders that the past offered a far simpler existence.
While the film refrains from plunging viewers into the vivid details of Sweet Potato’s former life of ease, it drops subtle crumbs of his fragile emotional, social, and psychological state. As mounting debts tighten their grip, Sweet Potato’s yearning to meet his elusive boss intensifies. His attempts to exert control over the present only serve to seal the fate of his future. Amidst this tumult, a pivotal figure from his past, Seven, remains a steadfast anchor in the turbulent sea of his anxieties. Against the rugged, unforgiving backdrop of Gueishan Island, its jagged contours symbolizing the world of trouble to which Sweet Potato is irrevocably bound, the film unfolds with a haunting grace that lingers on.
Having worked with influential filmmakers such as Bi Gan and Ho Wi-ding, Lee Hong-Chi serves up a film that is moody, and the touch of noir aesthetic clashes especially well with the normality and safety of a plain day. Some sequences embrace the polarity within groups – with cinematographer Zhu Ying Rong sitting with the different societal structures like driftwood. While Love Is A Gun is far from reinventing the genre, there is something enchanting about doomed youth attempting to change the course — you have to stick a parasol pole, or beach chair legs into the sand to symbolically mount any kind of change.
Reviewed on September 4th at the 2023 Venice Film Festival – International Critics’ Week. 81 Mins
Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at IONCINEMA.com (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).