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Movie review: Killed by Rock and Roll (搖滾樂殺人事件)

This movie about rebellious rock and roll musicians in the late 1990s ironically fails to break new ground, and despite the murder mystery element it’s mostly a tired tale of the trials and tribulations of trying to make it and failing in the music industry

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Edison Song plays the lead singer of Dictator in Killed by Rock and Roll.

photo courtesy of shine time

This ode to the 1990s Taiwan band scene succeeds in paying its respects and evoking the memories of people who were young and wild back then — but unfortunately, that’s about all it does.

As its title (especially in Chinese, which treats it like a crime) suggests, Killed by Rock and Roll (搖滾樂殺人事件) is supposed to be a rock and roll story with a murder mystery twist. The opening scene with a maggot-infested body found in the woods alludes to a dark, potentially gruesome tale, with the dead rock musician’s daughter Wawa (Yao Ai-ning, 姚愛?) trying to solve the crime while uncovering her father’s chaotic past. It appears that there are two mysteries — Wawa’s father Moxina, played by renowned rock band FireEx (滅火器) frontman Sam Yang (楊大正), was not only found dead, it’s quickly revealed through casual conversation that he was also a convicted murderer.

The production team suggests it’s a story made by rock stars for rock fans — the producer is Lin Ta-chun (林大鈞) of veteran rock outfit The Chairman (董事長樂團) and the actors are mostly real-life rock musicians except for the dashing lead singer Xiaosi, who is played by heartthrob Edison Song (宋柏緯).

But those hoping for an edgy tale are quickly let down as the bulk of the screen time is dedicated to telling an overly-sappy, unoriginal rapid rise-and-fall rock band story of chasing one’s dreams and the trials and tribulations that a bunch of misfits go through while railing against societal norms.

The audience is transported back to 1998 as the film focuses on Moxina, predictably a teenage rebel who makes his appearance on the run from school officials after spray painting the words “dictator” on a Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) statue.

Film Notes

Killed by Rock and Roll (搖滾樂殺人事件)

Directed By:Tommy Yu (游智煒)

Starring: Sam Yang (楊大正) as Moxina,Yao Ai-ning (姚愛甯) as Wawa,Edison Song (宋柏緯) as Xiaosi,Zaizai Lin (林辰唏) as Alice

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Language: Mandarin and Taiwanese with Chinese and English Subtitles

Taiwan Release: Sept. 14

His band members are recruited, predictably, after a bar fight, and they go through very stereotypical rockstar shenanigans such as partying, having run-ins with the police and arguments with the record company over creative freedom — this is already territory that’s been covered on big screens countless times.

It even perpetuates a trite and exhausted bad boy image of rock musicians — tattooed, chain-smoking, alcohol-and-drug downing, hot-tempered and prone to incessant cursing and ready to smash things up when needed with no regard for social etiquette. Their practice rooms and living quarters and complete messes, and so are their personal lives.

While there is truth in all stereotypes, and this kind of character can be portrayed in a meaningful way, such as in Trainspotting — which director Tommy Yu (游智煒) has compared the film to — there’s nothing philosophical or thought-provoking about the characters’ rebellious behavior here, with the film mostly relying on melodrama and nostalgia. Eventually it gets tiring.

The melodrama doesn’t really work here either, in fact, as previews of the film promise a love triangle — which is really overstating things as it has little effect on the outcome of events.

The center of the conflict, Moxina’s girlfriend Alice (Zaizai Lin, 林辰唏) actually is the most intriguing character as she transforms from the girl next door to black-clad rock chick after meeting the band, and also plays a crucial role in present-day events — which cannot be discussed without spoiling the plot. Lin does a pretty solid job, but her character could have been featured more as the key to resolving the myriad of plot holes, saving the audience a lot of head-scratching.

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