Netflix Instant Files: Miao Miao

miao miao napping

First love can be a quiet thing.  Sometimes it’s heart-rending and passionate, all-consuming and dramatic.  Other times it’s something that plays in the background, not to a grand sweeping score, but to something calmer.  That doesn’t make it any less powerful.  That’s what first love is like for the characters in Miao Miao, a Taiwanese film on Netflix Instant.

The actual first true love in the film is between high school student Ai and baking.  She runs her school’s baking club, and she prefers to ignore all of her other responsibilities, and her father, in the quest to bake the perfect pastry.  She’s not that good at it, but she loves the process and she’ll never stop trying.  She’s never distracted from her task until Shih-miao moves to the school.  She’s a transfer student from Japan, coming to spend one year in Taipei.  Ai is intrigued by her.

mmm, cake

Ai, left, and Miao Miao, right.

The two bond over baking.  Shih-miao’s a natural, and she quickly becomes the star of the baking club.  If this were another high school movie, Ai would become jealous and start a feud between them.  But it’s not; it’s more realistic, and as I said, quiet.  Shih-miao’s skill at baking only makes Ai like her more; she gives her the nickname Miao Miao, and they become best friends.

Other than baking, their primary pursuit is unraveling a mystery at a local record store.  The surly owner, Chen Fei, wears his headphones like armor and has signs up all over the store so he doesn’t have to speak to his customers.  But he’s not deaf; harass him enough, and he’ll remove the headphones and speak, in as few syllables as possible.  Miao Miao’s intrigued by him and Ai claims that she can get anyone to open up to their feelings.  They visit the store again and again in constant attempts to engage Chen Fei in conversation.

Miao Miao has a crush on Chen Fei, encouraged by the rare times he’s said a few words to her, and further flamed by the time he kicked another customer out of the store for harassing her.  Ai’s jealous and hurt by the time Miao Miao spends at Chen Fei’s store, especially because she skips school sometimes to go there.  Ai’s fallen for Miao Miao, but she can’t complain about the time her friend spends at the store, because Ai initially teased Miao Miao and seemed to encourage her crush.

Chen Fei’s not interested in a high school student.  He wouldn’t be even if he weren’t obsessed with a deceased friend, the lead singer from his former band.  The only thing in which he’s ever shown interest is finding a rare copy of the demo they recorded, on which his friend sang.  He’s so engrossed in his search, and in brooding when he’s not actively upon it, that the girls are convinced that the singer must have been his girlfriend.  We find out in flashback that she was a he.  He’d confessed his love for Chen Fei, but was killed in a traffic accident before Chen Fei could decide how to reply.

chen fei brooding

This is Chen Fei’s brood face. Get used to it.

It’s never made clear if Chen Fei’s consumed with guilt, regret for a love he was too late in expressing, in mourning for a lost friend, or some or all of the above.  It doesn’t really matter.  Miao Miao is an exploration of the many forms of love, in both giving and receiving.  It stands out because it treats everyone’s feelings with the same quiet respect.  Ai falls for her female best friend, Miao Miao has a crush on a man, Chen Fei’s friend confessed his feelings for him, and Chen Fei cared deeply about him, whether or not it was romantic.

Miao Miao doesn’t make a study of sexual feelings, or even too much of deep romantic ones.  Taken just as that, it’s not really doing anything that new, or even doing so all that well.  The plot’s a bit messy in places.  The baking story line is more or less abandoned part of the way through, with other themes and ideas picked up instead.

What makes the film special is the equality with which everyone’s stories and feelings are handled.  By not making that big of a deal out of any one individual’s crushes, they all receive the same treatment.  Everyone’s feelings seem normal and right; no one is singled out for either being different or for being more correct than another, because they’re not.

Don’t watch Miao Miao wanting a grand love story.  There’s none to be found here, at least not within the confines of the film itself (though the seeds are planted if someone wanted to imagine Ai and Miao Miao meeting up again years later, for example).  It’s just a simple, beautiful, moody film, which might be validly clichéd to some, but which always seems to appeal to me.

mmm, more cake

Ai’s face is my face whenever there’s pastry onscreen.

The cinematography is lovely, the lighting in particular.  I’m, predictably, won over by all the gorgeous cake. I have to say that many films anchored on baked goods also seem to be charmingly shot, though maybe the pastry just tricks me into thinking so.

Again, I just keep coming back to the crush story line: that’s what really makes the film for me.  As much as I love a compelling, heart-wrenching romance, it’s a nice change of pace to watch a movie about simpler, bittersweet love.  When that love is included in many of its forms, and all are viewed with the same steady unbiased gaze, it makes for something special, if in a quiet way.  Like many of our own first crushes and loves.


You can also pick up the DVD of Miao Miao on Amazon.