The Chinese title "迷走廣州" of Mickey on the Road, the coming-of-age lesbian film by Taiwanese avant-garde director Mian Mian Lu, literally translates as "walk to Guangzhou". However, what the title never sheds light on is its first character “迷" (Mi) which refers to the word "lost' or "magical" in Chinese and this is perhaps what makes Mickey on the Road so so very special.
Mickey on the Road is the first feature film by Taiwanese director Mian Mian Lu. The story revolves around two girls who are both part of a local temple activity team in Southern Taiwan. Mickey is a headstrong tomboy who is eager to join the all-male martial arts troupe of the temple while Gin Gin is a sanguine, impulsive girl who dances in the parades organized as a part of the temple’s activities. However, as different as the two might be, both of them share one thing in common, which is their supposed plan to visit the city of Guangzhou, China. Mickey is intent visiting the city of Southern China in her bid to locate her lost father who abandoned her and her mother years ago while Gin Gin thatches a plan to Chinese city formerly known as Canton to rendezvous with her crush, Jay, who also happens to be the father of her pregnant baby. As the ensuing turn of events would have it, a series of magical things happen to Mickey and Gin Gin as they embark on their journey to Guangzhou, thereby losing and finding themselves at the same time in this historic city in the south of China.
A Taiwanese take on Thelma & Louise? Two girls who find themselves amidst a male-dominated world.
Mickey on the Road’s storyline is simple. As the film’s marketing tagline reads “the Taiwanese version of Thelma & Louise”, the film essentially encapsulates the spirit of two women embarking on a journey to fulfill their purpose. A coming-of-age movie, the film sees the two lead protagonists, Mickey and Gin Gin grow and develop amid the process of searching for a “man” in a male-dominated world. Their journey transitions from feeling “lost” in Southern Taiwan to feeling “magical” in Guangzhou. The visual beauty of both, Taiwanese traditional temple culture to Guangzhou’s luminous neon city lights is perfectly captured by the film’s lenses and further interpreted with its selection of music.
The timeline of the movie is divided between Southern Taiwan and Guangzhou, with director Mian Mian Liu skillfully capturing the core cultural essence of both the cities with her artistic, avant-garde sensibility. In the case of Taiwan, Liu features the scenes where the protagonists hide and play under religious shrines and the enchanting clips of Mickey moving and swaying herself to the traditional art of martial dancing in front of temples while with Guangzhou, Liu lends her lenses to the many sights and sides of the mega-metropolis, it's drizzling rainy nights, colorful signage, thriving Cantonese food culture, and the tranquility of its canals. Elsewhere, Mickey on the Road also offers a great selection of music with its soundtrack. For instance, the choice of a surf rock song from the band La Luz is simply on point and perfectly compliments the sentiments of its lead characters, Mickey & Gin Gin.
Mickey on the Road brings actresses Yeh, Pao-Wen, and Chang, Ya-Ling together on screen for the first time where they take the lead roles of Mickey and Gin Gin as the main protagonists in the film. Yeh, Pao-Wen, a bartender in real life, had to spend considerable time and effort practicing the traditional art of martial dancing for her role as the strong-eyed, strong-willed Mickey in the film. Likewise, Chang, Ya-Ling, who takes on the role of Gin Gin in the movie, is a professional dancer in reality. The performance Chang has shown as Gin Gin in the film was not easy to replicate. On the surface, it might look innocent and carefree but on the edge of her lip, you can sense her concealed emotions right underneath it, especially so in the scenes where she gets dumped by Jack, her boyfriend.
I thought you had a crush on me!
As a line that Gin Gin says to Mickey in the film, the quote symbolizes the taunting means of expression used between the two characters, thereby putting a definition to their relationship and their hot-and-cold interactions. Chang, Ya-Ling’s performance in the film is like herself in real life. She can easily transition from being passionate and wild status to cold and reserved. Watching her act is like seeing the tip of the iceberg, it seems small and ordinary at first, but there is a huge part of it buried underneath the surface with her performance in the film rightfully earning her the nominations for the category of Best Supporting Actress in the Taipei Film Festival and the Golden Horse Awards.
Mickey on the Road is a magical journey into lost youth.
While the movie delivers with its impeccable production value, its artistic design visuals, and the realistic depiction of its two lead protagonists, it nevertheless falters when it comes to certain key areas and elements, especially in the case of the other supporting characters and their overall development through the course of the film. Take, for instance, Mickey’s mother, played by Miao, Ke-Li, who is always seen to be drunk and spending her nights with different men. Throughout the movie, we are only given a glimpse into her depression and dissatisfaction towards her husband, Mickey, and the rest of the world. But we are never really made aware of how and why she ends up that way. This sort of a flat and effortless description of the supporting characters can also be applied to say the wealthy man who escorts Mickey and Gin Gin when they first arrive in Guangzhou, or Jay, Gin Gin’s boyfriend, who plays a toneless, one-dimensional role throughout. It’s a shame not to dig more into them and their development.
Mickey on the Road, thus, is not so much like Thelma & Louise. Instead, the crux of the film reminds us more of the iconic Kids Return by the Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano. In irreversible youth, there will always a silver lining at the end of the tunnel, but only by walking through it yourself can you get the taste of it. There will always be ups and downs in life, you will lose something along the way but also find things worth living for. Youth is ought to be lost because it is the starting point to finding and figuring out the purpose of one's future. And Mickey on the Road is just that, a magical journey into lost youth.