DIDI’S DREAMS (2017) review

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After co-hosting the wildly successful TV show “Kangsi Coming” for twelve years, Kevin Tsai make a joint big screen debut as writer-director and lead actress respectively with Didi’s Dreams. It follows aspiring actress Didi (Hsu, who’s the sister of Barbie Hsu), who goes from thankless walk-on roles to degrading appearances in commercial and TV shows, ever stuck in the shadow of her estranged older sister, movie star Lingling (Lin Chiling). In a recurring dream, she is the owner of an interstellar noodle shop who falls for a handsome space janitor, but she is called back to tragic reality when she is diagnosed with a brain tumor that gives her a year at most to live. She throws herself oblivious into any work that comes her way, ending up in a viral video that makes her an overnight sensation. Now she is being offered to co-star with her sister in a lavish film about palace intrigue, and the estranged siblings will have to resolve their differences.

As you might have guessed from that plot synopsis, there are three different films in Didi’s Dreams, and while first-time director Tsai a superb job of tying them together as a cohesive whole, individually they are of uneven quality. As a comedy about aspiring actors, audition hell and the throes of aspiring stardom, it is consistently delightful and laugh-out-loud absurd, thanks to a remarkably silly and brave performance by Dee Hsu, who is obviously a natural for the big screen. Witness her overact her way through a diarrhea medicine commercial, dressed as a yellow virus. There’s a quietly affecting undercurrent to that part of the film, as the inherent humiliation of the situation Didi finds herself in when trying to make it as an actress is not glossed over.

Then there’s the more dramatic terminal disease and sibling rivalry, where mawkishness is unfortunately not avoided, and where Kingscar Jin (as Didi’s squeaky-clean boyfriend) and Lin Chiling’s blandness as performers is in awkward contrast to Dee Hsu, who is apparently as deftly funny as she is effortlessly moving. And the oniric, spaced-out part of the film, set on a space station and featuring aliens, prized soup recipes and a seductive space janitor, is executed visually with aplomb but is a mostly distracting narrative gimmick, especially when Tsai tries at the end of the film to pull off some kind of twist ending involving the two realities Didi ‘exists’ in. There’s a dime-store poetry and philosophy to that ending, that scatters the film’s so-far well-earned emotional pull.

Long Story Short: Three films rather expertly rolled into one but uneven on the whole, Didi’s Dreams is a funny and affecting comedy, an overcooked drama and an intriguing but flawed oniric puzzle. ***

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