Taipei at night, and the sea is rolling in to the shore at twilight as a lighthouse blinks on and off and a pair of anglers with a luminous float decide to pack up for the evening. Meanwhile, in the city itself there is still a nightlife of sorts, workers preparing deliveries and supplies for the next day, and in this small restaurant Mr Kuo and his wife Mrs Lin serve various dishes to their customers, a selection of night owls who need sustenance to get them through the later hours - or indeed, the earlier hours. However, there has been a news report on the radio carrying a warning, that a typhoon is travelling their way and could cause large amounts of damage. Perhaps Mr Kuo and Mrs Lin's restaurant will be the safest place to take refuge...
Sort of a documentary and sort of not, this was, loosely, a factual, observational piece that had a narrative imposed on it, only it was one that you may not discern right away, such was the subtlety of style the director Nicole Vogele applied. Indeed, it was closer to a non-style, with the camera fixed in single shots throughout that occasionally moved with the subjects depending on how mobile they were, scooters being the transport of choice for most of them. Every so often there would be a little conceit that betrayed Vogele's arthouse intentions, be that a drone on the soundtrack (as in an extended musical tone rather than a flying camera machine) or a camera movement that made you realise this had been directed after all.
It was not solely the restaurant owners we concentrated on, though they were returned to again and again, as there were alternatives too, fruit and vegetable wholesalers who bitterly complain about the price of cabbage (in fact, they seem to have a problem with cabbage overall) and the way that what sounds like climate change is affecting homegrown produce in Taiwan. Or how about a little music? Karaoke is frequently heard, and in one scene a young woman shows off a lovely voice only for the song to be sabotaged by her boyfriend who joins in on the other microphone and is utterly tone deaf. Then there's workers like the amusement arcade couple who collect the day's takings while the punters are away for the evening: even the gamblers must sleep at some point. But we always return to Mr Kuo, busying himself around his kitchen.
He makes food that his wife serves all night, and has to arrange the deliveries of the ingredients himself, but after about an hour and a half of this apparently aimless watching of various Taipei denizens for whom sleep is a daytime thing, something odd happens and makes you wonder if you were watching a documentary after all. It's a difficult film to spoil, because the incidents it features are so mundane and strangely pointed in their lack of excitement - even when the typhoon hits, it is not focused on, a few shots of the storm and a little of the aftermath like an uprooted tree here and there is all we get visually - but in the last act, for want of a better word, Mr Kuo does go off on his own little adventure on his scooter. Seemingly fed up with his life, or simply needing a break from it all, he travels off into the countryside, where we witness more substantial damage wreaked by the typhoon, and it appears we have been sitting through a slow burn tale of one man's search for liberation after a lifetime of drudgery. Something like that, anyway. It was a very contemplative experience, but you could understand if some couldn't get anything out of it.