Looking like a cyberpunk priest, Tsai Pao-Chang’s hero is swamped in technology — AI, encrypted files and dating sites. We see a bereaved protagonist, Ho-Hien. His lover has just died in a plane crash and he cannot find peace, especially so when a file belonging to his deceased shows a torrid history. How can he keep faith and trust in someone when every new revelation feels like it’s been engineered to hurt him?
When it hits its rare stride it’s almost awe-inspiring.
Love and simulacra are a popular mix right now and the two are destined to be even more partnered in the future, so Taiwan Season: Solo Date stays relevant for the most part. The novel staging helps: a frame of a great black box in whose confines Pao-Chang struts and frets; covering the entire frontmost surface is a gauzy material onto which Ho-Hien’s digital life is projected.
The drama doesn’t always play into the virtual torment which Solo Date is trying to stir. You know Pao-Cheng’s aiming for anguish because of the opening scene where Ho-Hien performs a Taoist ritual attempting to reach Hell, but only the play’s end really feels hellish. Other times it’s predictable, as in the navigation through an Okcupid-style website, or just plain melodramatic, as in Ho-Hien’s unhealthy chats with a certain AI. The unreserved style isn’t a bad one, however. The extreme tone it strikes and the questioning of one’s being is redolent of Blade Runner. In fact, Solo Date’s surprise ending matches that film’s in shock value and, although a bit kitsch, it works on a nice metatheatrical level.
It’s refreshing for a piece’s projection to be integral to the drama. Even if it’s so-so in places, I like the fact that the drama fits around the projector and not vice versa. Still, what’s presented does baffle: some is magnificent, a display of digital mercury in the way the images form and reform, but some is campy—as in BBC-sci-fi-from-the-seventies camp—and it’s not helped by gratingly lo-fi audio recordings.
Pao-Chang strikes in odd places with Solo Date. It’s sci-fi that takes itself semi-seriously, and while this points to a flaw in its muddled conviction, when it hits its rare stride it’s almost awe-inspiring.