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Pop star Jay Chou makes his directorial debut with a stylish love story

Pop star Jay Chou makes his directorial debut with a stylish love story

We all know he's a talented musician, but can he direct movies with the same flair he uses to churn out pop music hits?
Currently one of the industry's biggest acts, Jay Chou shook up Chinese pop with a fresh R&B sound and soul-baring ballads. But now, all eyes are on his directorial debut, the love story "Secret."
Unlike many fellow Chinese-speaking stars, Chou, 28, has not pursued music and acting careers in parallel.
He only made tentative moves into the film world, appearing in just two major movies _ as a street car racer in "Initial D" and as a prince in famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou's Chinese historical epic "Curse of the Golden Flower" _ before making "Secret," in which he also stars.
Chou appears to be treading carefully in his directorial debut. "Secret" is a stylish movie about puppy love but it does have a creative twist.
Expectations are low, but still, Chou should get credit for not overreaching in his first film.
"Secret" does not purport to be an epic love story. It's a movie about secondary school puppy love, but if viewers treat it as just that, it's a surprisingly decent production for that genre.
"Secret" follows the romance between two students, played by Chou and Guey Lun-mei, attending a Taiwanese secondary school for the musically gifted. The set is Chou's old high school.
He becomes curious about Guey's sporadic attendance and investigates.
Chou captures the innocence of young love well _ bike-riding along the shoreline, hanging out at a record store, restrained, almost Platonic displays of public affection. Guey, the very picture of a bright-eyed high school girl, is perfectly cast.
The unique production design gives an otherworldly feel _ the red-brick Japanese colonial architecture, rooms with grand pianos and oil paintings, the grand British boarding school-style uniforms of dark, thick blazers with golden lining and an elaborate crest on the breast pocket. The school girls wear white bow ties.
Investors obviously lavished on the production budget _ and probably with confidence, given Chou's star power in the Chinese-speaking world.
Chou also likely got significant help from cinematographer Lee Pin-bing, best known for his work with famed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, a past winner at the Cannes and Venice film festivals.
Chou came up with the story, though, and it is well crafted. Chou explains Guey's spotty attendance with a smart plot line.
It's unclear if we can expect sheer filmmaking genius from Chou in the future, but in "Secret," he shows he knows his limitations and has produced a neat little picture that gets passing marks.