2013 has been a productive year as new talents and filmmaking veterans hand in solid and sometimes ingenious works. One offering that has earned approval from audiences as well as critics is Zone Pro Site (總舖師), an emotionally engaging comedy that marks the fanfared comeback of director Chen Yu-hsun (陳玉勳) after a 16-year hiatus. Part of a recent wave of Taiwanese movies that emphasize local culture and identities, Chen’s work centers on bandoh (辦桌) — a unique form of Taiwanese banquet culture — and benefits greatly from a clever script loaded with grassroots humor and zestful character archetypes such as the loud-mouthed mother and small-time gangsters. The story is as boisterous and delightfully messy as its whimsical characters, and at the same time clings to universal emotions that go beyond borders.
Following his melodramatic When Love Comes (當愛來的時候, 2010), Chang Tso-chi (張作驥) turns his lens to childhood with A Time in Quchi (暑假作業), which follows a 10-year-old boy left by his parents to the care of his grandfather in a hilly village outside Taipei during summer break. The sense of hopelessness and the inescapable fatalism that defined Chang’s early works such as Ah Chung (忠仔, 1996) and Darkness and Light (黑暗時光, 1999) have almost vanished. Instead, warmth and a sense of living life as it is permeate the boy’s journey, as he tries to survive in a rural community devoid of urban comforts and is emotionally marked by the experience.
Starring Joseph Chang (張孝全) and Jimmy Wong (王羽), Chung Mong-hong’s (鍾孟宏) third feature film Soul (失魂) tackles father-son relationships — a recurrent theme in Chung’s cinema — under the guise of a psychological thriller in which a possessed man goes on a killing spree. With his expressive and opulent cinematography, distinctive approach to storytelling and the same cast of actors from previous works, Chung, who doubles as the cinematographer for all his films, firmly establishes a unique aesthetic expression and sensibility with his third feature.
Return to Burma (歸來的人) and Poor Folk (窮人。榴槤。麻藥。偷渡客) herald the emergence of the film auteur that is Midi Zhao (趙德胤), aka Midi Z. An ethnic Chinese born and raised in Myanmar, the 31-year-old director returned to his homeland at the height of its 2010 democratic elections to make his feature debut Return to Burma after years of exile in Taiwan. The next year, he followed it up with Poor Folk. Shot by a small crew with a consumer-grade digital camera, Midi Z’s cinematic world is populated by underemployed young men hanging around and comparing their meager salaries, or prating about their planned escapes to neighboring countries. A sense of alienation permeates, while displacement is an inevitability of fate. It is raw, gritty cinema that offers poignant insights into a region that had been largely unknown to the rest of the world.
New York-based Taiwanese filmmaker Chen Ming-lang’s (陳敏郎) feature debut Tomorrow Comes Today (你的今天和我的明天) conjures up the cinema of Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) in that they both require considerable intellectual effort on behalf of the audience. Built around a narrative structure that is fragmented and sometimes elusive, the film centers on a food delivery boy from Taiwan who searches for his mother in New York with a photo of Marlene Dietrich. His neighbor Wayne, whom he never meets, makes a living by cleaning payphones at night, while trying to forget about his ex-girlfriend by following instructions from videotaped lessons. Like Tsai’s works, the film oozes with symbolism, using elements such as muteness and old sentimental songs to weave together a peculiar tale about migration and self-identity.