Spider Lilies
Wolfe Video // Unrated // $24.95 // May 6, 2008
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted April 7, 2008
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Taiwanese director Zero Chou, the woman behind Spider Lilies, has a strong grasp on the permanence of circumstance and decision. It shows through her respect for the artistry that goes into tattoos, from the almost torturous initiation into the artform to the addiction that can follow. Her delicate love story Spider Lilies draws an interesting parallel between marking your body and falling in love with someone. It's a painful yet beautiful process that, no matter the satisfaction that comes with its outcome, will be etched into the target's body forever. Zero Chou's film, with its thoughtful magnetism, draws you into the belief that a strong connection between individuals can be a permanent fixture in someone's life, no matter the age or sex of the other person.

The Film:

Spider Lilies features the relationship between Jade (Rainie Lee), an eighteen-year-old professional webcam girl, and Takeko (Isabell Leong), a seasoned female tattoo artist. Together, they shared a passionate connection many years before the time of this story's telling, one that started with a young teenage girl giving an even younger girl a ride home. They split ways after a few tumultuous years, leaving each of them to develop into near polar opposite types of people. Once Jade has grown up, while still reflective on her past relationship, she unknowingly steps into Takeko's tattoo parlor on a mission: to get a tattoo that makes herself more sexually and exotically appealing to her clientele. Jade eyes a tattoo of a spider lily on Takeko's wall, one that triggers something that sends past memories flushing into her mind.

It's difficult to see what these two girls find in each other, especially since they seem to stray towards very different sides of the human spectrum. Jade's world explodes like a pi˝ata full of brightly colored candy that splashes the screen with concentrated bubbliness. She appears online, night in and night out, selling glimpses at her body to the highest bidder. Takeko, on the other hand, spends the majority of her time soaking into her thoughts when she's not working on crafting a new design or scrolling on her regular customer, Adong.

Director Zero Chou helps to give these two polar opposites gravity by focusing on their coupled family turmoil. She paints - actually, more like etches - a history for Takeko and Jade that revolves around a natural disaster that devastated their lives. This devastation can be more bluntly seen through the absent demeanor settled within Takeko's brother, a more direct victim of this event. He seems to be the only person to which Takeko can open herself up, which gives her character some very intriguing qualities through stoicism. She's undoubtedly the absorbing focal point for the film, leaving all the other characters in the cold as mere tagalongs through her journey of awakening.

Spider Lilies is attractively photographed and appropriately acted across most fronts, but it lacks that strong cohesiveness between its two focal characters that would pollinate the narrative with the punch it needs. Perhaps it's the fact that Takeko doesn't seem like the kind of woman to cut herself down to the giddy bounciness of Jade's lackadaisicalness. Her laud advances and piercing shrills via webcam don't detract from her appeal, per say, but they do construct a character that doesn't seem close to a match to Takeko's focused, artistic demeanor. Actresses Rainie Yang and Isabelle Leong do make the connection work through very select moments of quietness, which in peculiar ways add depth to Jade's character. Though the audience might have a difficult time believing it, this sexually superficial front Jade has lifted might be just that - a fašade lifted to help her heal after a broken heart. It's a stretch for such an infuriatingly sweet character, but one that Zero Chou embraces through the natural gravity that comes from disastrous effect and permanent choices.

Spider Lilies becomes more of a graceful portrait of Jade and Takeko's rehashed connection, one inked from the beauty of a meaningful tattoo that the two parry over for most of the film. Where the film struggles in sensibility, it makes up for it in the perseverance through life's difficulties that the film holds in high regards. It gives up a portion of its austere beauty by taking a few turns for the overly complicated at its conclusion, namely a bizarrely ethereal ending and a muddy plot complication involving police interference, but overall Spider Lilies takes graceful strides in illustrating the meaningfulness behind Takeko's erratic and meditative life. Though I yearned for more feeling and emotive impact between Jade and Takeko, there's the good possibility that Zero Chou may have not wanted that much of a direct connection to be visible. It would've tainted Spider Lilies to the levels of pure, unquestionable romance instead of as a more steadfast and diligent story of boundless love. For that, and for some beautiful tattoo work captured on film, I enjoyed Zero Chou's film.

The DVD:

Wolfe Video sent over a screener copy of Spider Lilies with attractive coverart.

The Video, Audio, and Extras:

As this was purely a test disc, all the way to a lack of anamorphic enhancement, I cannot comment on the merits of its technical aspects. The DVD was void of accessible menus and was made available with nothing more than a Stereo audio track (after some searching with the "audio" button on my remote. It's a pleasing film to the eyes, so a quality transfer will be a great asset here.

A Making Of Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Cast and Crew Filmographies, Trailer, and a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, along with a 16x9 widescreen label, all appear on the back cover for this screener copy. All things to come, hopefully.


Final Thoughts:

Spider Lilies is a compelling and mysterious love story from Zero Chou, a director with a careful eye for visual and interpersonal effectiveness. Though the film suffers from a bit from doubtfulness in the narrative's happenings, it still shares an intriguingly compassionate love story with the viewers through subtle beauty. It's a film about love's confusing labyrinth that's worth seeing, so a finalized version of this disc would be a quality Rental.

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