Sweet Potato (played by the director Lee Hong-Chi himself) resents his criminal past. Yet his disreputable history constantly haunts him. His ridiculous nickname is a constant and embarrassing reminder that he was once caught stealing vegetables. And the very gangsters that caused his demise (and a consequent three-year custodial sentence) keep coming back. They wish to lure him back into activities that could send him back to prison. The remaining people that come across his pattern are neither inspiring nor dignified: his cocky old friend Seven (Lin Ying Wei) may have killed her own parents in order to to inherit their money, while a corrupt politician shares the details of his unorthodox practices during an informal conversation.
Hong-Chi’s character is an awkward, quiet and introspective man, a far cry from the image of the rugged criminal who has done time. For a short while, he attempts to stay away from any wrongdoing, but that proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. Sweet Potato’s friends mock his trade choice: he rents parasols to Taiwanese beach-goers. The problem is that the weather is invariably foggy and grey, and the black-sanded beach looks barely summery. He eventually convinces two customers to hire his product by arguing that the ultra-violet rays can make their way through the clouds, and that they need shielding even on such a wintry day. That’s probably his biggest achievement outside the criminal world, other than looking after a tiny pet tortoise. The reptile is more agile and energetic than our spud-snatching protagonist.
It seems that Sweet Potato would prefer an uneventful existence firmly stuck in the ground like a tuber, but such option just isn’t available to him. Former associate Maozi (Lin Ke Ren) eventually convinces our tormented protagonist to take arms. His sense of conflict and hesitation is entirely palpable, yet he sees no other way forward in his dull and hopeless life. Plus, he needs to help his debt-ridden, gambling-addicted mother. Such good deed provides him with relief of conscience: what kind of son would refuse a helping hand to troubled parent?
The titular “gun” is highly misleading. This is not a bang-bang crime thriller, and not even a bloody murder drama. Sweet Potato points the gun to the head of his dispassionate girlfriend Lulu (Zheng Qing Yu), but only after she requests it. Perhaps that’s reflective of the level of excitement in their relationship. Instead, Love is Gun is a piece of slow cinema with sparse camera movement and a sombre colour palette. It s also a gentle study of how social maladroitness can slip into gun crime. It’s clear and concise at a taut 80 minutes, however it’s also superficial. It never deep dives into the protagonist’s presumably complex psychology. The director-actor (who co-wrote the movie with Lin Cheng Hsun) has a shot (pun intended) at a shocking ending, but the lack of character development combined with a very flat script prevent a more profound and emotional reaction. The outcome is a film that’s breezy and pleasant to watch, however mostly unmemorable. It will not hit you like a punch on the face, or a bullet. Instead, tt will pass through you like the wind on a wintry beach.
Love is a Gun showed at REC Tarragona International Film Festival. It premiered in September in Venice Critics’ Week.