In its first half, Liao Ming-yi‘s debut feature, I WeirDo, fits the mode of the cute, quirky rom-com. It bears down hard on its appropriately oddball flourishes: the strange typography of its English title; the bright, candy-colored cinematography, often resembling an exploding bag of Skittles (the digital images are given an extra pop by being shot entirely with iPhones); a decidedly unique take on the familiar, requisite montages of romance flowering. But the love story in I WeirDo has a bit of an unusual hook — the central couple both suffer from the same mental illness, specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder. We are first introduced to Chen Po-ching (Austin Lin), whose condition has him mostly confined to his home, constantly washing his hands and sanitizing every corner of his pristinely ordered dwelling. He ventures outside only once a month, precisely on the 15th, to meet with his doctor and to pick up food and household disinfectants from the local supermarket. During these outings, he diligently insulates himself from any dreaded germs by wearing a face mask, gloves, and protective rain gear. Coming back home on the subway one day, he spots Chen Ching (Nikki Hsieh), a young woman outfitted exactly like him. Po-ching breaks his routine to surreptitiously follow her to another supermarket, where he observes a particular manifestation of her OCD, which partly involves compulsive shoplifting chocolate candies. It’s not long before they discover each other, and they quickly enter into a relationship, bonding over their shared disorder.
I WeirDo was shot before the current, ongoing pandemic, but it goes without saying that the image of the mostly homebound Po-ching and Ching donning their PPE uniforms lands much differently now than it would were we not living in such times. It’s a fascinating development, perceiving the film according to two different moments: in conception, these two individuals are both defined by their outcast status, and couple up perhaps because of that shared societal position; in execution, viewed from 2020’s vantage, the duo could otherwise simply represent the prudence and caution of our new normal. (In that way, it’s perhaps the most organic realization of quarantine cinema yet precisely because of its incidental nature, in contrast to the number of intentional, micro-budget creations that have been shot and released over the past several months.) In keeping with the more somber connotations with which the current global malady imbues the film, at its midpoint the “com” is largely jettisoned when a change occurs in one character’s condition, upending the couple’s blissful equilibrium and erupting the cozy cocoon they’ve weaved around themselves. And so, an enjoyable but slight scenario quickly transforms into a poignant examination of relationship power dynamics and compatibility, while also questioning our cultural constructions of “normal.” The result is a film far richer than its initial eccentricities suggest: a haunting and melancholy experience, powerful in its own right, and further vitalized by a unique relation to its time of arrival.