Updated: Feb 8
‘The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk … accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity.’
David Foster Wallace wrote those words in response to a culture of self-defeating irony. Instead, he proposed a culture of new sincerity, where radicalism could be reconciled with sentimentality and melodrama. Chen Hung-i and Muni Wei’s As We Like It (2021) is abundant, over-ripe with such sincerity. Their film is a new cinematic take on the Shakespeare play, recently screened as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Like SimCity meets Shakespeare, the film is unique in its blend of digital metropolitan life with old-fashioned romcom storytelling.
The romantic duo of Rosalind and Orlando are brought to life by Puff Kuo and Aggie Hsieh, their teenage-like smiles brimming with innocence and mischief. Rosalind transforms herself into ‘Roosevelt’, a male counterpart, in order to befriend Orlando and find out whether Orlando’s love is true. Given that women weren’t allowed to act on the stage during Shakespeare’s time, this film seeks justice and dedication to the women and actresses who have been stifled by the patriarchy; as a result, both Rosalind and Orlando are played by female actresses, one of whom plays a young man, and the other plays a woman pretending to be a man. Let the comedy commence.
The forrest of Arden, in Shakespeare, was a pastoral paradise of mischief and mistaken identity; here it's re-invented into the bustling city of Taipei where there’s no internet, no rudeness, and people live for each other’s full attention. It’s a paradise of sorts, somewhat utopian. Art director Liang Shuo Lin has done a remarkable job making a self-contained world that feels like magic-realism, channeling all of the energy from the original play and building it into splendid interiors and city designs. The film also brings in elements of manga-like animation (a boxing scene has video-game life-bars above the fighters’ heads). As We Like It is more refreshing than most Shakespearean adaptions. At times it feels theatrical (after all, co-director Muni Wei started off in the theatre). Orlando is prone to breaking the fourth wall, turning to the viewer and delivering a side-remark or soliloquy. Such moments draw us further into the world of the film, a film that acknowledges what it owes to theatre.
However there are times where it’s hard to fight back an impulse to cringe, the sweet sincerity bordering on cheesy; but the whimsical performances and designs can easily cover up these shortcomings. The film could also benefit from firmer direction and control on the DP’s part. The camera-work often feels haphazard, as if it’s just been placed anywhere; if the camera was itself telling the story, a participant rather than a detractor, the film would garner higher praise. Nevertheless, As We Like It is a fun and splendid adaption. I’m not sure if nuance would enhance the film’s sincerity or dampen the fun, but it’s totally one-of-a-kind, a queer utopia, a screwy gender-swapping spectacle of the madness caused by love, love which is ‘an accident waiting to happen’.