Review of “Spider Lilies” (“Ci qing”)

Nonetheless, Jade does get to Takeko. Not wanting to risk giving Jade the spider lily tattoo, Takeko spends hours at night drawing an elaborate jasmine plant for Jade’s tattoo instead. When Jade arrives late one day at the studio and sees it, the two embrace — and as we see Ching wandering outside the institution at dusk, wondering where his ride is, we know that more heartbreak is on its way.

The contrast between the cartoonish quality of Jade’s sex-kitten webcam persona and Takeko’s serious demeanor heightens the on-screen chemistry between these two women: opposites attract indeed. They look great together.

Isabella Leong could have done more with her role as solemn-but-gorgeous Takeko, but part of the problem may be her age. There is supposed to be at least a 10-year difference between the younger Jade and Takeko, but the actresses appear to be around the same age. (Yang is 23 and Leong is 19.) This may be a minor point, but one would also expect Takeko to look older than her age due to the stress in her life; perhaps some different makeup would have made this more believable.

Rainie Yang is almost too over-the-top as Jade, yet her vivaciousness is suited to the role. Especially effective are the scenes where she believes she is chatting online one-on-one with Takeko, when in fact she is chatting with the smitten undercover cop (Kris Shie) who is monitoring her site. Her shock when she discovers the truth shows her youth and naiveté beautifully.

The subplot involving Adong brings additional spice to the story but is not presented clearly. Also unclear is the reason that Jade’s site is being monitored: Is it illegal to have a sex-themed website in Taiwan ? Do the authorities think she is underage? Why is she being targeted instead of the host of the site, especially if they think she is a minor?

The resolution of this plotline is dropped in the film — we hear the sirens as police cars take off for Jade’s place, but what happens?

All this being said, I did enjoy this intense film and appreciated its
unique story line. With film festivals full of coming-out stories,
girl-meets-girl tales and lesbians-considering-children films, it’s
great to have a film where, as in Takeko’s case, sexuality is
important to the plot but is explored in tandem with other aspects of
a character’s psychology and history.

Spider Lilies, which is predominantly in Chinese with English subtitles, is the second feature from director Zero Chou. Her first, Splendid Float, was about drag queens and won her comparisons to Pedro Almodóvar for her use of melodrama and color.

Reported to be the highest-grossing film in Taiwan so far this year, Spider Lilies is also being released theatrically in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Korea this summer.

The stars of Spider Lilies are teenage pop idols in Taiwan, no doubt counting for some of the film’s popularity there. But as Chou said in an interview with the International Herald Tribune, as a lesbian herself, this story in particular interested her: "There have been many [Taiwanese] films about homosexuality, but very few about lesbian relationships."

Remarking on the film’s popularity, Chou said, "For the public it does not really matter whether it’s about a gay relationship or a heterosexual one, as well as it’s a well-made love story." Chou has created a moving, intense and convincing love story with Spider Lilies, and though she says her next project is not queer-themed, we can hope she returns to lesbian relationships in future work.

For another perspective on Spider Lilies, go here. Watch the trailer for the film here: