Living with a younger brother with autism, I have a front-row seat to how Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects one’s life. The term is used loosely these days for people who fuss over small discrepancies, say a slightly tilted photo frame or their colour-coordinated stationery, but for people like my brother, it is less a charming idiosyncratic habit than a real impedance in his lifestyle – like getting up two hours earlier at 5am in the morning just so he can unpack and pack the bag he uses at work, carefully zipping and unzipping each pocket with meticulous rhythm.

I Weirdo dives into the unlikely love story of two individuals with not just OCD but mysophobia (fear of germs) – an unfortunate combination. Po-Ching (Austin Lin) is the plastic-wrapped, blue-gloved recluse, set in a repeated pattern of scrubbing, sweeping and step-counting when he heads out for essential groceries, until an unfortunate closure forces him out of his regular route to another supermarket.

There, he meets Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh) in all her yellow raincoat glory, stealing chocolate bars and having the same robotic antics as he does. The two quickly develop a connection, and inevitably fall in love. This tale of kismet could have ended happily, except that Po-Ching wakes up one day to find his OCD and mysophobia gone.

The second half of I Weirdo explores the tension when the two characters react differently to this dramatic shift. While one happily accepts his normality, the other desperately tries to trigger a relapse so that he won’t leave. For Chen Ching, what’s the chance of finding someone who can not only understand your flaws but accept them too?

The feature is a debut effort by Liao Ming-yi, who has performed keys roles in other films such as 2011’s You are the Apple of My Eye, and even At Cafe 6 in which Lin also starred in.

“In the past, I was an executive director, like a babysitter. I WeirDo is my first own work, from script to film completed (sic),” he says. But doing quad-duty as screenwriter, director, cinematographer, and edit director might have costed the movie some points. 

Shot on an iPhone and painted in rich contrasting hues, I Weirdo immediately draws attention to a stylistic DNA and concept, but not all of it actually suits the theme. While I understand the initial cropped mobile portrait aspect ratio opens up to a full 1.85:1 landscape to express the freedom of having found another, the application feels a little stranded.

The cinematography and colour scheme also plays up the quirkiness, featuring repetitive shots to stress the obsessive structure and routine of the two. But in all honesty, there’s only that many repeated shots of house-cleaning and hand-washing we can take. We get it – they have OCD and mysophobia. Not only does this emphasis take away the relatability for the two “odd” leads – something crucial when telling a love story – it is distracting and may have contributed to the lack of on-screen chemistry between Lin and Hsieh. Sometimes, it felt like the actors were more focused on walking in step than actually staying in character.

The film palette, for all of its fantastical yearnings, becomes even more at odds when the movie steers into philosophical musings in the second half. Cheng Ching’s wistful thoughts sit awkwardly against the vibrant background – a visual disconnect that prevents a more satisfying gestation of her woes.

Thankfully, Lin compensates with a believable performance. He transitions from stoic to “normal” successfully, leveraging on his mannerisms and delivery to convey the change, with better responses to the situations. And although Hsieh doesn’t shine as much – an issue with her characterisation – the scene of her at the supermarket spotting the estranged Po-Ching is particularly moving.

I Weirdo would have benefited more from if Liao had devoted more time on the couple’s development and creating more character conflicts. One of the biggest missed opportunities was how he could have created tension in the couple’s post-discovery lifestyle. With the OCD and mysophobia leading the story initially, it turns into an empty trope largely ignored afterwards. If Liao could have built up the disparity as intimately in the second half, the collapse of the relationship would have been heartbreaking.

Lin and Hsieh are talented in their own ways and I would have enjoyed a deeper exploration from these two. It may have made the love story a little less coerced, and melded the theme more harmoniously. At least, that would have been my prescription.

The purposeful bright and quirky love story becomes awkward in the second portion when dealing with heavier topics, but decent performances keep this watchable.


First published: www.movieXclusive

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