BIFF 2023: Salli (2023) Movie Review – A sweet story about finding yourself in the strangest of places

A sweet story about finding yourself in the strangest of places

Salli is a delightful film about a woman who travels across the world to find herself. At home, she’s a chicken farmer who’s raised her younger brother after her parents died and looks after a niece who seeks a happier shelter.

Yet for all she does for her family, she’s seen as ‘past it’ by a society that’s fairly unforgiving of single women of a certain age. As it gets closer to her younger brother’s wedding date, a well-meaning Auntie consults multiple seers to ensure an auspicious occasion. Everything is fine with the couple – it’s the ‘Tiger Aunt’ Hui-Jun who’s the problem – they encourage the groom to uninvite his sister.

At 38, she has more connection with her school-aged niece who encourages her to find her own happiness by joining a dating app. And that’s where our story picks up pace. She meets Frenchman Martin, the perfect online boyfriend, who showers her with compliments and promises true love.

He can’t wait until they meet, but he’ll need a little cash to make it happen… Somewhat unsurprisingly, when she confesses that she doesn’t have any money, he suddenly disappears. With absolutely everyone criticizing her fake relationship, Hui-Jun does the only thing she can do – heads off to Paris to find him.

Filled with laughter and different kind of ‘coming of age,’ Hui-Jun transforms into her online persona, Salli, starting with a guided tour of Paris but then electing to stay a bit longer. She meets friends, finds Martin – who’s handsome face and impressive biography has been used in hundreds of dating scams – and even has a real date. But at home, her brother is waiting for the person who’s always supported him – the reliable Hui-Jun – to host his wedding.

Played by Taiwanese actress Esther Liu who is completely charming as Hui-Jun/Salli, you may recognize her from her very different role as Hana in Netflix series Light the Night. She completely transforms from work-a-day laborer Hui-Jun to fluffy newborn chick, Salli, gradually finding her way.

Shown at the Busan International Film Festival, under the ‘Window on Asian Film’ category, Salli receives claps and cheers from the audience who love Liu’s delicate and humorous portrayal of a woman stumbling to find her power. As she makes her way through Paris, there’s a transition in the lighting, color, music and significantly, in her look.

In a considerable upgrade from her chicken-cage gear, Salli discovers makeup, curls, ruffles and shy smiles. But even with this momentous conversion, she’s a woman in a foreign land, without the language and certainly artless to boot. Rather than faking Grrl Power, she steps lightly, picking her way through housemates, parties and wine bars, delicately making a small if temporary place for herself. But one that proves to herself that she was there.

Directed by Lien Chien-Hung, in his first feature-length film, he’s keen to talk about romance. In a festival welcome video, Lien notes in a very ‘Bridget Jones’ reminiscent quote that everyone needs love and that the most important thing is to be yourself, just as you are.

While Liu leads the story like a pro, she’s surrounded by a warm and relatable cast, including Hui-Jun’s brother, played by singer/actor Austin Lin. He also appears in Light the Night and My Best Friend’s Breakfast, both featuring Liu. They’re clearly quite comfortable with each other, even adlibbing a scene or two, such as that conversation about the English word for meatball.

In a pleasant break from often heavy festival fare, Salli joyfully explores that rare and universal moment in a woman’s life where she takes stock and makes a choice solely for herself. It firmly lands the idea that it’s not the outcome that matters but the willingness to take the risk.

 

Check out the exclusive interview with Esther Liu on Salli. For more stories from the Busan International Film Festival, click here


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  • Verdict - 9/10
    9/10
9/10

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