The Hunt for Big City Love

D.J. Chen delivers a kaleidoscopic comedy about gay longing in Taipei

A candy-colored comedy, set in gay Taipei, “Formula 17” is a cheerful queer romance filled with upbeat Asian pop tunes and cute young guys. The film is an intoxicating love story—light as a feather, but also about as deep as a thimble.

Seventeen year-old Tien (Tony Yang) is a country boy, visiting his childhood friend Yu (Chin King) in the city. Tien dreams of love—in fact, he specifically dreams about kissing a hot guy underwater—but his reality is a really lousy date with a guy he meets on the Internet who is just looking for sex. Holding out for true love, Tien finds himself smitten with Bai (Duncan Lai), a handsome lothario who may or may not be able to love him.

Tien makes it clear to Yu that he “despise[s] people who toy with love.” He wants the real thing. With help from Yu and two other fabulous queer friends CC (Dada Ji), and Alan (Jimmy Yang), Tien navigates sex in the city, hoping to find true romance and affection.

“Formula 17” offers up about as much drama––and comedy––as a TV sitcom, with misunderstandings and miscommunications generating much of the humor. When Tien announces that he’s a virgin in a crowded nightclub, it happens the moment the music stops. His statement receives a standing ovation.

Tien yearns for Bai, but his pals explain to him that Bai became a playboy after he was dumped by a former lover. Thinking he would never love again, Bai started sleeping around, but never kissing his partners. As the film shows, the heartbreaker is now in therapy, hoping to overcome his problem.

No matter. Tien still has his eye on Bai, which is not to say he is immune to other charms. He is taunted by firm abs, pecs, and butts at the gym where he works out, and acquiesces to a sexy encounter with a hunky plumber at Yu’s apartment until he realizes that the whole situation is a set up.

By chance, Tien and Bai meet on the street one day and the pursuit is back on. Yet, even as he has a second chance, Tien becomes distracted by tending to Yu’s broken heart, instead of focusing on his own chances for love. An extended flashback sequence shows how Yu met his ex, an American, on the beach, but the scene serves little purpose, even if it delivers considerable sexy appeal.

The relationship between Tien and Bai develops slowly—perhaps too slowly—but its gradual evolution allows both characters to come to terms with their romantic expectations.

“Formula 17” may be too “formulaic”—it is a foregone conclusion how the lovers with end up—but there is something endearing about the film and the characters. The actors, Tony Yang especially, wink at the camera as if everyone is in on the joke. The performers’ enthusiasm is

infectious. As Yu and CC, Chin King and Dada Ji are delightful; they bring the film a satisfying sweetness.

Director D.J. Chen keeps the pacing lively, and the film boasts some gorgeously photography—especially the underwater sequences. The biggest mystery is the title, which goes unexplained. Nevertheless, “Formula 17” is the right recipe for late-summer fun.

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