Dir: Singing Chen. Taiwan, 2007. 118 mins.
Singing Chen's bleak but richly-detailed portrait of contemporary Taiwan has elicited praise for its artistic ambitions but will do well to move past the festival world and into art-house release.
Her second feature boast four separate stories, each playing out separately with occasional overlap until all are brought together by a traffic accident in the last act.
One features a kindly one-legged man, known as Yellow Bull (played by Hou Hsiao Hsien veteran Jack Kao) who drives around the country in a truck full of holy statues which he rents out as decoration for religious ceremonies.
Ching (pop singer Tarcy Su), who works as a handmodel, is suffering from serious post-natal depression, which might have caused the death of her baby. Deeply depressed, she changes her religion, stops talking and frustrates her bemused businessman husband, A Xiong (Chang Han) who evidently doesn't begin to understand her acute state of crisis.
Drunken itinerant Buing (Ulau Ugan), meanwhile, is Christian. He prays for help with overcoming his alcoholism, but gets no response. His daughter, who blames him for the death of her brother, works out her anger in kick boxing, hoping it will open a new and better world for her. And there is also Xian (Jonathan Chang, six years old in Edward Yang's Yi Yi and now a teenager). He's a homeless adolescent, roaming around the country and stealing whatever he can get his hands on. There isn't a eating tournament he doesn't enrol in, winning them all: despite his emaciated exterior, he is consumed by an unquenchable hunger and he can't stop eating.
Whatever these people have in common with each other lies more in the realm of metaphor than in real life. One way or another, they are all in dire need of assistance, but neither modern life as portrayed here, nor religion, whether Christian, Buddhist or any other creed, can provide much solace. Life has a way of not always making sense, as Ching complains when her husband asks her to be sensible. And that is as true for the rich as it is for the poor.
The collage effect created by these criss-crossing stories is enhanced by some biting comments at Taiwan's new poster civilisation, real estate corruption, sleazy lawyers, and discrimination against foreign workers. All humans are ultimately victims of pre-existing social structures and enslaved to them, What's left of freedom in God Man Dog is only nature, as suggested by the stray dogs which roam free across the country. Like emissaries of fate, they witness everything and intervene every once in a while to move the plot along.
Crisply shot and featuring sympathetic performances by the entire cast, the film has one serious problem: the excessively self-indulgent editing undertaken by the director herself. As for her highhanded manner of manoeuvring events on screen - why should anyone complain' After all, if real life doesn't always make sense, as Singing Chen claims in her picture, there's no reason her script should do better.
Ocean Deep Films
The 3rd Vision
Fame Universal Entertainment
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Director of photography