Rene Liu plays Du, a pretty young ophthalmologist who suddenly quits her job and decides she wants a husband, so she places an ad in the local newspaper's personals section expressing her intentions. For the bulk of this quiet, low-budget film, Du meets an endless variety of Mr. Wrongs, all at the same teahouse that becomes a second home to her.
With its kitschy soundtrack and array of goofball suitors, The Personals comes across at first as a romantic comedy, a la the similarly-themed American indie Next Stop: Wonderland. But as we listen to the first of Du's many confessional messages on her ex-lover's answering machine, we realize that there may never be a Mr. Right: there are serious, even tragic, reasons behind her search for a mate.
As layers of her character are gradually revealed, it becomes apparent that this is all some elaborate mind game Du is playing not only with the men who answer her ad, but with herself. And as she continues to reject the obvious humanity of her later suitors, she sets herself up for something of a meltdown, and the film builds to a startlingly emotional climax that lingers in the memory long afterward.
The Personals is that rare film that leaves its audience with a gift – in this case, one of the most complex and three-dimensional female characters to grace the screen in years. Rene Liu has a remarkably expressive face and serves her character very well; director Chen calls her "definitely the best actress in Taiwan".
Made in 1998, The Personals was given a very brief and limited theatrical run in the US three years later. I urge you to track it down, for it shows once more that Taiwanese filmmakers – along with those from Iran – are producing the most honest, relevant, and thoughtful cinema in the world today.