I decided I’d stream this year’s Taiwanese Film Festival, online from 9-30 July, as a test run for Pordenone which they advise will be online this year. Click on this link to go through to the program and make selections. (Not all titles are still available.)
I dialed up the 2019 Fanxiao/
Detention, spun off a video game and director John Hsu’s first feature. It was not without ambition. In 1962 Taiwan is oppressed under White Terror martial law - bet you didn’t know about that one. Gingle Wang the school girl protagonist has nightmares of making her way by candle light through the now decrepit Greenwood High corridors while being followed by a school uniformed lookalike with melted features. The dream recollections and black and white insets gradually flashback to reveal a kind of Dead Poets Society where sympathetic school teachers Cecilia Choi and Meng-Po Fu secretly read Turgenyev and Tagore (opposed to colonial authorities) with pupils in the school store room, despite the prohibition against such “Communist” literature.
They are nearly caught when one of the boys with a forbidden text still in his bag, next to his puppet figure, is pulled up by military uniformed Inspector Hung Chang Chu (dialogue coach for Lust Caution). Fellow member Jing-Hua Tseng chides the boy. The group are betrayed by an informer among them and suspicion focuses on Gingle, jealous of teacher Choi involved with Gingle's mentor, Meng who had given her the soap stone keep sake and draws lotus petals - “a leaf becomes a flower when it loves”.
In her dream (?) the group’s members and the teachers are trucked off by the troops with sacks over their heads for torture - being lowered hands tied into water tanks or beaten and stood on chairs with a noose round their throats in the school auditorium, which features a Chang Kai-Shek poster. The janitor key-holder turns up with half his face missing. A dust covered ‘phone rings.
The realistic recollection of events is replaced by visions of the paper lamp carrying, mirror face stilt man and bodies hung like stored puppets from the rafters in the now decayed school hall.
The filming is expert, the subject matter unfamiliar enough to catch interest and the idea of mixing activist history and horror movie has some daring to it but when they throw in the art cinema’s broken time structure (second one this week after French Film fest’s Seules les bêtes) Mr. Hsu and his lot are pushing their luck and it’s easier to think of this as just another shapeless Asian teen horror movie with added pretensions.
The transmission was exceptionally sharp and sub-titling excellent.
|Shao-hua Lung and Yi Ti Yao : The Gang, the Oscars and the Walking Dead|
I preferred Pin-Chuan Kao’s The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Deadwhich builds up expectations early with unrelated images which will return in the finale - an animated story board, the traffic cloverleaf montage and rather nice coverage of a human nose lost among the empty gin bottles washing about on the bottom of a swimming pool.
The makers have the technical knowhow and they’ve absorbed sophisticated movie models, even though they can only occasionally make their would be outrageous material ignite.
We wonder how much of the exposition is autobiographical. Roy Chiu and Di-Yang Huang are a couple of struggling young film makers who want to launch their careers with a zombie movie. Unfortunately, they can’t get past low level AV chores. Their attempt to enliven coverage of a gangster funeral ends in disaster when their drone camera crashes into the coffin starting a fire - so far pretty good.
Rather than punish the boys, gang boss Shao-hua Lung (Kun-Chang Chen) is caught up in their enthusiasm seeing Di-Yang Huang as the next Ang Lee. He offers to bank roll their project but (think Pete Kelly’s Blues) they have to star his squeezeYi Ti Yao whose appearance has been modified by cosmetic surgery to resemble the star ladyboy. Doesn’t matter that the character is meant to be a dewy eyed school girl. The guys ponder rejuvenating her in the computer.
However, the question doesn’t arise as the girl manages to off herself partying and they have to work with her remains (Weekend at Bernies). This is not something the boss is going to take kindly and he has a side kick who feeds antagonists into a live catfish pool. After a few experiments with Mission Impossible masks they recruit the original ladyboy.
Stolen diamonds hidden in a body, Japanese gangsters, the boss become star of the production, a pet incinerator, a shoot out ending in a shower of bank notes and a mean henchman who has figured it all out get mixed in as the plot evolves counter plot (FX). The scene with the severed finger is pretty good.
Unfortunately the makers cant sustain the opening’s impetus. Their dramatic shortcomings dissipate our interest. The lead duo never emerge as individuals. The handling of Yi Ti Yao’s role (Tootsie) is uneasy despite all the frenzied attention they give it.
This one had minor pixilation problems.
Two films or indeed the event’s eleven are not a large enough sample of the Taiwanese industry but this pair do recall the productions that made their way into those Asian Film Festivals years back. While they were an interesting indicator to what their own public watched, they were films that (outside of the Hong Kong and Japanese entries) had not managed to develop the sophistication to play to an international audience.
Still, this lot is valuable as a glimpse into an area where our access seems to be shrinking. The last two Asian DVD stores in down town Sydney have closed and SBS was never much interested. We know the films are still coming but it’s getting harder to check them out.