Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Movie review: Black and White: The Dawn of Justice (痞子英雄:黎明再起) and The Frogville (桃蛙源記)

Two Taiwanese productions — one action-packed, the other environmentally conscious — hit screens this week

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

The star-studded cast of Black and White: The Dawn of Justice is led by Mark Chao.

Photo Courtesy of Prajna Works

For anyone accustomed to Hollywood animation, The Frogville will seem amateurish. But as the first 3D animated feature made in Taiwan, the film’s shortcomings partly reflect the state of the country’s animation industry.

Once a large cartoon production exporter, Taiwan’s animation industry was founded on original equipment manufacturer (OEM) orders for big US studios. It gradually lost market share to South Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries. Over the decades, Taiwan’s animation market has never grown mature enough to support the production of 2D features, let alone high-quality 3D animation that requires costly high-tech support.

It is against this backdrop that director Yang Jen-hsien (楊仁賢), a veteran animator who used to work at Wang Film Production (宏廣動畫), one of Taiwan’s biggest animation studios, dedicated himself to the six-year project, working with a crew of less than 10 people and a tiny budget of NT$30 million.

The storytelling and visual design are somewhat crude, as is the animation quality.

Despite limited resources, however, Yang and his team manage to pull together a structurally tidy and scientifically accurate work aimed at families.

The film follows a group of Heymons’ narrow-mouthed toads as they flee their habitat, which has become polluted by humans and invaded by a gang of American bullfrogs, a foreign species-turned-menacing intruder who feed on smaller creatures, including other frogs.

Closely connected to what happens to Taiwan’s environment, the film also touches on the government’s controversial land expropriations, showing how human characters, like their amphibious counterparts, are forced to leave their homes.

BLACK AND WHITE

Following director Tsai Yueh-hsun’s (蔡岳勳) 2012 action blockbuster Black and White: The Dawn of Assault (痞子英雄首部曲:全面開戰), the latest installment of the police action series is definitely much grander in scale, with participation of filmmaking professionals and special visual effects and 3D production companies from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand, France, Australia and Hollywood.

The movie opens with a dramatic car chase and several explosions that sabotage all of the roadways leading in and out of the city.

All evidence points to the leader of a supposedly defunct special army unit as the mastermind behind the destruction, suggesting a much more nefarious operation is underway.

The city’s inhabitants must depend on police officers Wu Ying-xion and Chen Zhen, played by China’s Kenny Lin (林更新), to save the city from mass destruction.

Collapsed buildings, airplanes and trains crashing on to city streets, a rocket attack and a biological weapons keep the movie going at a frenetic pace. The demented mastermind behind these events believes that only total destruction of the earth will bring with it rebirth.

The apocalyptic mood, however, is overshadowed by a thinly developed story and one-dimensional characters, an unfortunate holdover from the first movie.

To be fair, we don’t expect Tsai’s demonic creation to be anything like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, but the lack of intensity and gravitas renders the movie little more like an expensive video game for men.

Film notes

Black and White: The Dawn of Justice (痞子英雄:黎明再起)

Directed by: Tsai Yueh-hsun (蔡岳勳)

Starring: Mark Chao (趙又廷) as Wu Ying-xiong, Kenny Lin (林更新) as Chen Zhen, Huang Bo (黃渤) as Xu Dafu, Janine Chang (張鈞甯) as Lan Xi-ying, Tsai Yueh-hsun as Lan Xi-en

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