Fri, Jan 09, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Politics as theater

Laurence Lau mines the assassination attempt on former president Chen Shui-bian for his latest crime thriller

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

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President Xiong is losing ground to his opponent in the upcoming presidential election. “How do we win this time?” the president and his subordinates wonder. The solution: a faked attempt on his and the vice president’s lives that will make the opposition look bad and win Xiong sympathy votes.

Xiong and Vice President Hsia are shot during a campaign parade one day before the election and are rushed to a hospital. Neither is seriously wounded. The following day they win the election by a narrow margin.

Sound familiar?

Beating Taiwanese filmmakers to the chase, Hong Kong director Laurence Lau (劉國昌) has made a film inspired by the 2004 assassination attempt on then-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), which many of their political opponents allege was staged. But Ballistic (彈道) is not a film in the vein of Oliver Stone’s JFK. Lau merely uses this conspiracy theory as the setting for a crime thriller that offers a comfortingly simple view of the world, one where it’s easy to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and righteousness from corruption.

Taiwan’s Joseph Chang (張孝全) plays the incorruptible young cop Yuchang. Veteran actor-turned-politician (Ko Chun-hsiung, 柯俊雄) makes a rare return to the silver screen as crime leader Pang, who hires hitman Jinshui (Lam Ka-tung, 林家棟) to shoot at President Xiong and Vice President Hsia.

Yuchang and his crew vow to catch the perpetrator. Little do they know just how deep the corruption goes — all the way to the Presidential Office, which conspired with the gangsters to stage the assassination attempt.

The good cop tracks down Ertong (Liu Kai-chi, 廖啟智), a bum and a convenient scapegoat who has fled to Hong Kong, and convinces him to return home and tell the truth. Upon arriving in Taiwan, Yuchang finds out that his supervisor, Sun (Simon Yam, 任達華), has also been bought off by evil senior government official Zhengbei (Chang Kuo-chu, 張國柱). But it’s too late. Sun guns down Ertong in — yes — a fish farm.

FESTIVAL NOTES:

BALLISTIC (彈道)

DIRECTED BY:LAURENCE LAU (劉國昌)

STARRING:JOSEPH CHANG (寂孝全) AS YUCHANG, SIMON YAM (任達華) AS SUN, CHANG KUO-CHU (寂國柱) AS ZHENGBEI, KO CHUN-HSIUNG (柯俊雄) AS PANG, LAM KA-TUNG (林唧棟) AS JINSHUI

RUNNING TIME :95 MINUTES

LANGUAGE: IN MANDARIN WITH ENGLISH AND CHINESE SUBTITLES

TAIWAN RELEASE:TODAY


The film ends on a hopeful note when Yuchang meets Ertong’s daughter during a street demonstration where thousands of — you guessed it — red-clad protestors call for the corrupt president’s resignation.

Shot mostly in Taiwan, Ballistic might seem like a movie produced by the propaganda department of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) as part of its campaign against former president Chen, who a government task force determined was the victim of a real assassination attempt but who now languishes in a detention center while prosecutors investigate him and his family for corruption. The story has undoubtedly been sensationalized, but it only skims the surface of events without exploring too deeply the intrigue and betrayals.

It is exactly this lack of depth — along with fine performances by veteran actors Chang Kuo-chu and Ko Chun-hsiung and an arresting cameo by Leon Dai (戴立忍) — that makes the film entertaining.

Ballistic succeeds as a lighthearted commentary on politics as theater, and local audiences will enjoy a good laugh as they watch Taiwan’s political soap operas brought back to life for the big screen. By incorporating footage of the “dao Bian (倒扁)” protests in 2006, director Lau adds a realistic feel that’s reminiscent of Taiwan’s infamous political talk shows, which are designed to stoke a similar kind of dramatic tension with their melodramatic coverage of political issues.

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