A mobster and a cabbie strike up an unlikely companionship in this offbeat Taiwanese road movie
Dir/scr: Mong-Hong Chung. Taiwan. 2016. 111 mins
Mong-Hong Chung’s offbeat Taiwanese road movie wafts along, both as aimless and as intoxicating as the smoke from the cigarette which plays a key role in a pivotal scene. Sudden flares of extreme violence and an undercurrent of surreal humour add to an idiosyncratic tonal mix which might anchor the film in the festival environment. Asian audiences, however, may be intrigued by the presence of Hong Kong comedy veteran Michael Hui, delivering an uncharacteristically nuanced and low key turn as a down-on-his-luck taxi driver.
The languid pacing heightens the shock value of the grisly violence
The film kicks off with a taut scene, told in flashback, as sharply turned out mobster Da Bao (Leon Dai) recounts a near fatal encounter with some jittery Thai associates whose trust issues manifest themselves in a scissor attack on Da Bao’s neck. He is telling the story to his friend and associate in the drug business, Brother Tou (Chung-Hua Tou). The backdrop is Tou’s headquarters in a fly blown bowling alley which is just one of the grungy, atmospheric locations that Mong-Hong Chung — shooting the film under the alias Nagao Nakashima — captures with his vividly brooding cinematography.
Unlike the lean economy of most gangster thrillers, Chung allows the scene to extend, a leisurely, friendly banter which ends with Da Bao persuading Tou to rip the protective plastic from his leather sofa, a full 15 years after he bought it (thus pretty much ensuring that it will be covered in blood later on in the film).
Having established this friendship, Chung quite boldly and unexpectedly allows these two characters to slip into the background. The main focus for most of the film is the odd-couple pairing of Nadow (television presenter Na Dow), the taciturn drugs mule who delivers Da Bao’s product, and Old Xu (Hui), the taxi driver who blusters his way into the job of driving Nadow and his bag of drugs down to the south of the island.
Annoyed that he was coerced into riding in Xu’s beat up old taxi, Nadow sullenly rebuffs the older man’s overtures of friendship. But we gradually learn that Nadow dreams of a fresh start and Xu, a immigrant from Hong Kong twenty years before, has endured his own hardship and setbacks.
A strand of low key humour doesn’t completely obscure the sense of mounting tension; the misadventures on the journey are building up to something. It’s only when Nadow makes his delivery to Brother Tou that all hell breaks loose.
The languid pacing - the film sometimes feels like a Johnnie To movie played at the wrong speed - heightens the shock value of the grisly violence that follows the gang heist. Meanwhile Na Dow and Xu, locked in the boot of a car, defuse the tension with some gentle comic moments, “It’s my first time riding in a Mercedes,” says Xu, his face pressed against the inside of the trunk. “It’s so stable.” Na Dow, casting around for a light, finds a glowing toy duck, a pleasing touch of absurdity which softens the story’s harder edges.
Production company: Cream Film Production
Contact: Mandarin Vision; firstname.lastname@example.org
Producer: Jufeng Yeh, Shao-chien Tseng
Cinematographer: Nagao Nakashima
Editor: Hsiu-Hsiung Lai
Production design: Shih-hao Chao
Sound: Li-Chi Kuo
Music: Si-Ming Tseng
Starring: Michael Hui, Na Dou-Lin, Leon Dai, Chung-Hua Tou, Matt Wu, Yi-Wen Chen, Vincent Liang, Na Dow