Picture this: A young Asian girl purrs and struts before a video camera. She gyrates and poses seductively, running her manicured hands up and down her body. Are we at a strip club? A peep show, perhaps?
No, we’re in her bedroom. And her bedroom is in the house she shares with her senile grandmother. A grandmother who sometimes makes unexpected appearances before the camera.
The girl’s name is Jade, and she’s a webcam girl. Guys pay to watch her strip online.
Well, mostly guys.
So opens “Spider Lilies,” the new film by lesbian Taiwanese director Zero Chou.
How old Jade might be (she’s played by Taiwanese singer Rainie Yang) isn’t clear. What is clear is that she’s interested in appearing as young as possible. She dresses like a schoolgirl, uniform and all. She makes breathy webcam appearances surrounded by anime dolls she sometimes addresses directly, just like you’d expect a 9-year-old to do.
Oh, and 9 was the age at which Jade first fell in love. With another girl. A girl several years older. They grew up together – how much they grew up, however, remains to be seen.
Despite Jade’s new career, she’s never forgotten about Takeko (Isabella Leong). So imagine her surprise when she walks into a tattoo parlor to get a sexy image to spice up her webcam life – and the tattoo artist is none other than Takeko herself. The only thing is, Takeko doesn’t remember her.
Jade does exactly what anyone would do in this situation: She gives Takeko her business card and encourages her to “visit my blog,” giggles, and walks out of the shop. The next time she’s online, she confesses her love for Takeko.
As you might imagine, such a scheme is prone to all manner of miscommunication. After all, Jade has no way of knowing if Takeko is online or not. Her confession could fall on totally deaf ears or, at least, the wrong ears.
Complicating matters further is Takeko’s mentally-handicapped brother Ching (a standout performance by John Shen). You see, ever since their parents died in an earthquake, Takeko’s been her brother’s sole caretaker. She does everything for him, including getting the same spider-lily tattoo their father had in hopes of helping her brother through his grief and trauma.
When Jade decides she wants the same tattoo as a memory of love, Takeko refuses, telling her the spider lily is cursed. Legend has it that the flower grows on both sides of the path to hell and is permeated with poison that makes one lose consciousness and memory.
But Jade is not the kind of girl who takes “no” for an answer.
It’s a plot with a lot of potential. However, “Spider Lilies” wilts early, and often.
The biggest problem with the film is Jade. Yang portrays her as an immature, bratty teenager. Though she apparently is supposed to be 18, she seems 14 at best. Perhaps this would be acceptable if the young-girl act was simply that – an act that she put on for her clients and took off when she went out in the world.
But she doesn’t. She acts as petulant and annoying when she’s trying to seduce Takeko, which has the effect of making the “chemistry” between the two more like creepistry as Takeko appears much older and much more mature. It’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re watching something vaguely pedophilic.
“Behind every tattoo is a secret,” Takeko says, and she and Jade have plenty. I quickly found myself hoping they would keep them.
4 p.m. Oct. 13
Main Art Theatre, Royal Oak
Reel Pride Film Festival