An unexplained sunburn, a missing date, and an empty Valentine’s Day festival: these are the markers that tip off Yang Hsiao-Chi, the protagonist of Taiwan’s 2020 romantic comedy My Missing Valentine, to the horrifying realization that her perception of time is unmoored. In My Missing Valentine, Yang experiences the world faster than everyone around her. She is pathologically premature, always off-rhythm, and even blinks too early for photographs. After she wakes up one day and realizes she missed an entire day of her life—including a monumental date with an exciting new lover—Yang sets off to discover what happened on the day she missed, and what explains her disjointed sense of time.
At its core, My Missing Valentine uses a lens of magical whimsy to explores how perspective structures our worldviews. However, despite the film’s novel concept and quirky characters, My Missing Valentine itself feels disjointed in its structure. As a result, the film struggles to organize its narrative in a driven manner, and gets lost in its runtime.
My Missing Valentine is split into two broad segments organized by major shifts in the film’s perspective, and cleverly signaled by changes to the film’s title. The film’s Mandarin title 消失的情人節 translates roughly to “The Disappearance of Valentine’s Day.” Unlike its English counterpart, removing different words within the Mandarin title results in different meanings.
The film takes full advantage of this wordplay in each segment’s title, mirroring these segment titles with the film’s overarching theme of missing information or perspective. Its first segment, for instance, disappears the words “情” and “節,” resulting in a sub-title of 消失的人 or “The Missing Person,” in reference to the mysterious disappearance of Yang’s new lover.
The second segment inverts this by instead disappearing the “人” in “情人節.” This results in a new segment title of 消失的情節 or “The Missing Story,” to highlight how a major reorientation in perspective adds additional meaning to events we have already seen. This creative play on words shows what is most successful about the film—its fascination with how an individual’s perspective is limited and how seeing life through another’s perspective can fill in the blanks of our own stories. The two segment titles are inverses of each other and ignore precisely the parts of the film’s title that the other sees. Only by viewing both segments, and both titles, can we see the full picture and meaning.
Out of Time
However, while the film wants to ask thoughtful and imaginative questions, it does so in a choppy way. Just as its characters find themselves off-beat in a world they don’t seem to fit in with, the film suffers from a structure that is similarly disjointed. Without enough narrative foreshadowing of where the film is interested in going in its first act, or even enough attention to the themes that will later become important, My Missing Valentine often feels aimless and meandering. Even after Yang discovers the more fantastical elements in her world, the film backtracks from committing fully to its magic and whimsy, and too quickly reverts to a slice-of-life atmosphere.
When My Missing Valentine does finally appear ready to lean into the magic of its characters’ disjointed sense of time, it is too little, too late. A perspective switch in the film’s third act takes the ideas of inversion and point-of-view to their extreme, by reorienting its audience to a radically different perspective of the film’s events. However, this segment, while more narratively driven compared to the first two acts, draws significant focus away from the primary protagonist’s already thin arc. Unfortunately, this makes the film’s final scenes of merging perspectives fall flat.
While other Taiwanese romcoms that play with perspective (like IWeirDo) build upon the different perspectives of interesting characters in service of resolving multiple meaningful character arcs simultaneously, My Missing Valentine falters in its final moments to give any of its characters the send-offs they deserve.
My Missing Valentine is a film with a lot of heart, and some moments that truly shine in their creativity and imagination. However, the film lacks a holistic perspective that effectively merges all of its constituent components. While by the end of the film, Yang finally has all the missing pieces to understand her unmooring from time, My Missing Valentine itself could use a bit more searching.
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My Missing Valentine (Chinese: 消失的情人節)—Taiwan. Dialog in Mandarin Chinese. Directed by Chen Yu-hsun. First released September 18, 2020. Running time 1hr 59min. Starring Liu Kuan-Ting, Patty Pei-Yu Lee, Bamboo Chen.
My Missing Valentine screens at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival and is part of Cinema Escapist‘s Busan coverage.