Fri, May 09, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Movie review: The Losers

Drug abuse, poverty and land exploitation in Taiwan’s rural communities are among the problems explored in Lou Yi-an’s second feature film

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

The Losers’ strong cast breathes life into its frustrated and discontented characters.

Photo Courtesy of Good Days Film

Departing from a narrative about the city’s misfits and the displaced in A Place of One’s Own (一席之地, 2009), writer-director Lou Yi-an (樓一安) turns to rural underdogs for his second feature film The Losers (廢物), a socially-conscious drama that tackles some of the difficult issues facing Taiwan’s farming villages as told through the stories of those deemed “losers.”

Articulately written and finely executed, the film is a brave probe into the dark sides of rural life that finds little, if any, treatment in the current genre-inclined Taiwanese cinema.

Among Lou’s losers, Shiou, played by theater veteran Hsu Hua-chien (徐華謙), is a struggling stage actor in Taipei who works odd jobs to make ends meet. Frustrated, he returns to his Greater Kaohsiung suburb hometown, Meinong (美濃), only to be greeted with a disapproving look from his aging father, who claims that those who stay in town are either drug addicts or jobless.

While trying to learn about his farmer father’s trade and grow tomatoes on the family farm, Shiou meets an old girlfriend, Mei-shia, played by Tsou singer and actress Paicx Yatauyungana, better known by her Chinese name, Kao Hui-chun (高慧君). Now married, Mei-shia lives an affluent but spiritless life in a mansion along with her teenage son Ah-pan (Pan Chin-yu, 潘親御), as the husband and father, Tian-jin (Lin Chih-ju, 林志儒), spends most of the time away in China, accumulating wealth.

Soon, the flame is rekindled between the failed actor and the bored wife.

Ah-pan, a typically troubled teen, befriends classmate Yu-mei (Chiu Su-chin), a girl from a poor household barely sustained by her Vietnamese mother. Unable to find work after a serious workplace injury, Yu-mei’s father has been in and out of jail for stealing to support his drug habit.

Film Notes

The Losers 廢物

Directed By: Lou Yi-an (樓一安)

Starring: Hsu Hua-chien (徐華謙) as Shiou, Paicx Yatauyungana (高慧君) as Mei-shia, Pan Chin-yu (潘親御) as Ah-pan, Chiu Su-chin as Yu-mei, Lin Chih-ju (林志儒) as Tian-jin

Languag: in Mandarin and Hakka with Chinese and English subtitles

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Taiwan Release: Today

The newly found friendship between the two turns into a romance, then a romance in jeopardy when Yu-mei finds out about Ah-pan’s ketamine abuse, which offers a quick escape from the dead-end mentality of small town life.

Meanwhile, real-estate speculators have been systematically buying the fertile land of Meinong, aiming at property development. Shiou’s family farm is no exception from the development craze, and industrialist Tian-jin is eager to get his hands on it.

Compared to the director’s loud, uneven debut feature, The Losers suggests a more assured direction that lays out the multitude of issues Lou wishes to examine at a thoughtful pace. Drug abuse, rural poverty and land exploitation are among the most obvious. Looming in the background is the omnipotent force of capitalist globalization, colluding with misguided agricultural policies.

And it is the underprivileged who are hit the hardest. A sense of defeat pervades the film, whether an aging farmer, Southeast Asian immigrant, disillusioned youth or an Aboriginal resident, unnamed and unrecognizable on her own land. At one point, the simmering discontent and frustration boil over, somewhat feebly, through the character of Ah-pan, who, high on ketamine, sinks back into oblivion while listening to the sound of Kou Chou Ching’s (拷秋勤) Civil Revolt (官逼民反), a song that has often been played over the past few months at protests on Ketagalan Boulevard.

But Lou deals with this raw anger intelligently. As in his previous work, he uses dark humor to examine injustice and oppression. It mocks and makes the unbearable absurd and comic, while adorning his characters and their struggles with a new sense of warmth.

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