Being in love can be a little like a sickness, but what happens when the spell wears off? A meditation on fatal attraction syndrome and the duplicitous delusions of “normality’, Liao Ming-Yi’s charming romance I WeirDo (怪胎, Guàitāi) arrives at the most opportune moment in which we’re all “weirdos” now, stuck at home obsessively washing our hands and dutifully remaining “alert” as we disinfect everything we see. Liao’s PPE-clad heroes find love in shared anxiety, but happiness is the enemy of fear and the things that brought you together may in the end drive you apart.

Chen Po-ching (Austin Lin Bo-hong) is somehow able to afford a spacious two-level home working as a full-time literary translator despite the fact it takes him ages because he’s unable to type. A sufferer of severe OCD, he lives by strict routine and is deathly afraid of germs. For most of his life he simply remains at home, but on the 15th of every month he dons full body PPE and braves the outside to pay his bills, do his shopping, and visit a doctor he hopes can help him beat the condition but only gives him mysterious medication which doesn’t seem to make much difference. His life changes one particular 15th when he spots a woman dressed much like himself who is also headed to the supermarket where she shoplifts a bar of chocolate and buys up the remaining stocks of his favourite disinfectant. Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh Hsin-Ying), as she later gives her name, approaches him to make sure he’s not going to dob her in about the chocolate which she doesn’t even like, it’s just a compulsion. She suffers from OCD too along with a skin allergy that means she’s not supposed to spend a lot of time outdoors. 

Love eventually blossoms. Ching opens up Po-ching’s world, conspiratorially involving him in her shoplifting and inviting him to visit her at work as a life model for a drawing class where she’s asked to pose like a fallen angel with broken wings. They go on weird “dates” taking germ challenges like eating at tiny eateries with questionable hygiene standards and picking up rubbish before Po-ching realises that going “out” so much is placing a strain on Ching’s health so he proposes she move in with him. Luckily she’s an ace typist so she can help with his work as well as the intensive cleaning regime he already has in place. What they’ve made is a blissful world of two, isolated from the confusing pollution of regular society. But paradise can also be a cage, and it’s natural enough to long for freedom. Before long a problematic pigeon and a loitering lizard have them each pondering life in the outside.  

Opening in a boxy, claustrophobic square, Liao eventually swaps narrators and switches to a comparatively open widescreen as horizons quite literally expand, a development which introduces, ironically, a new but distinctly unhelpful anxiety into a relationship both apparently hoped would be unchanging. The couple’s OCD struggles become a stand-in for the giddy obsession of new love as they cocoon themselves happily within their romantic bubble only for the magic to inevitably begin wearing off. Despite all they have in common, the pair have an ideological mismatch. She actively craves their difference, believing OCD is a gift that allows them to lead unique lives, but he secretly yearns for “normality”, to be cured and become a “normal” person living a “normal” life. She’s for staying in, he’s for going out. “Why do we have to be the weirdos?” Ching asks Po-ching seconds after revealing suicidal tendencies. He tells her he’s never given it too much thought. His OCD simply is, it can’t be changed, so he just accepted it. But change, which is of course what they most fear, eventually comes, paradoxically because when you’re “happy” and you feel accepted perhaps you don’t need so much obsessive control over your life. 

Liao undercuts the darker side of a life ruled by intense anxiety through whimsical production design adding a touch of fairytale glamour to the sad romance of the two similarly named protagonists falling in love in an uncertain world. Shot entirely on iPhone, the cinematography is unexpectedly rich and innovative, handsome even in its immediacy and like the protagonists embracing its limitations with wit and charm. Perfectly tailored for the post-corona world, I WeirDo wants to ask us if love can survive our fear of change or if our intense need for control over our lives robs us of the ability to live, if being “normal” is worth the price of love, and if there’s really anything wrong with being a “weirdo” especially if you find someone to be a weirdo with. Po-ching and Ching are still figuring it out, but aren’t we all even in these admittedly strange times? 

I WeirDO streamed as part of this year’s online edition of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

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