Story: Jade (Rainie Yang) works as a webcam-girl in order to escape her solitariness. Because she wants
to squeeze more money out of her clients, Jade decides to get a tattoo. She visits the local tattoo shop and wants
to ask for some advice concerning which motif might be appropriate. Jade meets the shop's owner, Takeko
(Isabella Leong), who just so happens to be her "first love" back when she was only 9 years old. Takeko doesn't
recognize her at first and moreover refuses to
tattoo a "Spider Lily" on her skin, a motif she has on her body herself.
The reason for Takeko's refusal lies in her past. Her brother Ching (Shen Jian-Hung) has lost his memories in his childhood. Since then his intellect didn't develop much. When still being a child, Ching had to witness his father becoming the victim of an earthquake. The only thing Ching can remember of these days is the Spider Lily tattoo of his father. In order to establish contact to her brother, Takeko gets the same tattoo and even decides to become a tattooer herself.
While Takeko finally remembers Jade, and the webcam girl obviously tries to romantically approach Takeko, Jade has to be careful that she doesn't get captured by an undercover agent (Kris Shie), who is also visiting her website.
Review: "Spider Lilies" is a drama which unfortunately just seems to be more and even aims to be more than it
actually proves to be. It's difficult to deprive the movie of its profoundness, but it's also this profoundness
the movie gets lost in. Especially the many small narrative strands that are woven into the main plot, make it
impossible to break up the film into its several parts, and thus we can also never see any connection between the
numerous subplots. This is the source of the viewer's frustration while watching "Spider Lilies". There are many
good ideas to be found here, the movie is composed with a good eye for the right pictures, and yet the film can't
deliver what it actually wants to. "Spider Lilies" is unnecessarily complex and overloaden with side stories that
aren't important whatsoever, and still try to add to the main story. Sadly, they never can make for a whole or at
least a coherent story.
Somewhere along the way the script writer must have lost sight of what first might have seemed a clever story to him. Granted, the plot is resourceful, as it is about love, memory and what it means to forget. Those who think that the plot is merely about love really must have missed something. However, most of the time it is the only recurrent theme, that can serve as some sort of leitmotif. Adding to the lesbian love story revolving around Jade and Takeko there is also the dramatic story about Ching, who lost his memory, because of a traumatic experience in his childhood, which requires him to get medical treatment because of his mental disabilities.
But that's far from being everything the story comes up with. We also get to know what it means to get tattooed - every tattoo has its own meaning. For some people they serve as a mark of capturing certain memories, for others it means an increase in one's own power and self-esteem. Furthermore, there is also the story thread concerning Jade's loneliness, which is also aiming to criticize the solitude of modern internet society. Jade may be flirting with men, but she only does so through a camera. Her joyful character only hides her silent yearning for love.
Then, we also have a plot revolving around a stuttering policeman, who is visiting Jade's website and wants to get her behind bars, until he eventually falls in love with her. That part of the story surely isn't the most convincing one, and it merely seems to be put into the film to lead to some obvious misunderstandings, as Jade naturally believe's the cop to be Takeko. Moreover, the tranquil pacing is supposed to get a little bit more momentum with this subplot. But tension or thrill is nothing you will find here, anyway.
For the story around Adong, played by Jay Shih, a wannabe-gangster, who is feeling more powerful the more tattoos he gets, there applies the same as for all of the subplots: The audience can never figure out how they are supposed to fit into the rest of the movie, and even worse, they eventually come to nothing. Every now and then we might feel that we can grasp for a short moment, what the filmmakers actually intended to say with their work, but this feeling vanishes as suddenly as it comes.
Numerous flashbacks introduce us to Takeko's past, so that her character is in fact the only one we really get to know something about. Nonetheless, she always remains a bit too cold and never really seems alive. As if she would merely be a certain idea of the script, who is just a means to an end to make the story move forward. That's sad, as Isabella Leong's ("Isabella") acting also remains rather reserved and cold. She never works as a individual we can relate to. Popstar Rainie Yang may head into the direction of a character to sympathize with, but unfortunately we only get to know little about her past, so that we don't care about her and her fate either. Besides, her character also has something pretentious and artificial to it. Nevertheless, Yang is a true eye-candy and is so sweet and sexy, that it becomes almost impossible not to fall for her charm.
One of the film's biggest strengths is the lesbian love story, which is presented in a welcome self-confident manner. The sexual orientation of Jade and Takeko just happens to be a lesbian one and this is brought onto screen in a refreshingly natural way. There are even some very appealing and erotic love scenes between the two main protagonists that serve as a little bonus.
Technically, there is nothing to criticize about "Spider Lilies". The somber color palette that is used adds to the gloomy and melancholic mood of the film, the pictures also speak for female director Zero Chou's expertise and a nice soundtrack complements the good overall picture, concerning the movie's technical side.
Sadly, the work denies us to delve into the depths of the story or let us mentally grasp the movie's message. There is no doubt that "Spider Lilies" is full of motifs and supposedly meaningful subplots, or I should say wanted to offer all this, but in the end it just gets lost in too many subplots, and eventually fails because of its self-admiration concerning its allegedly profound character. This also becomes very apparent at the end. The ending might be different from what we expected, but it also doesn't feel right and even somewhat out of place.
Actually, "Spider Lilies" is not a bad drama, but it eventually drowns in an unforgivably aimless story and a message, that never seems to be in grasp of the viewer. Too bad.