Just when it seemed that local filmmakers couldn’t come up with a bleaker storyline, Be Alive Just Like You (親愛的殺手) appears, punching you in the gut and leaving you hurting for the rest of the day.
Six (Cheng Jen-shuo, 鄭人碩) is a paraplegic who sells chewing gum and other goods from his wheelchair, and relies on his aging father to care for him. He’s often bullied and has never had a chance at romance, but he clearly has sexual needs that go unfulfilled. He eventually starts a transactional relationship with Noodles (Ally Chiu, 邱偲琹), a loner who attentively cares for her mentally unstable mother and is forced to have sex with her slimy landlord (Cheng Chih-wei, 鄭志偉) to stay financially afloat.
Both have little to live for, and their relationship turns into something more as they clutch on to each other desperately to find a reason to carry on. It’s a raw and sobering look at the dismal realities of people who occupy the bottom rungs of society, but also reminding viewers that they are still human and they have physical and emotional desires just like anyone else. This sexuality is laid bare in the film and the many scenes are explicit and daring by Taiwanese cinema standards.
Photo courtesy of Vie Vision Pictures
The erotic content serves more than just a promotional device to create buzz; rather, it drives the entire film. Only by portraying sex scenes so explicitly can the audience understand what director Lai Meng-chieh (賴孟傑) is trying to say and truly sympathize with the characters. It’s not about liberation or sensuality or even meant to arouse the audience, but serves to push the characters’ struggles to the forefront.
For example, Six’s loneliness and frustrations are highlighted in scenes where he comes across a couple who have loud sex in the public bathroom he frequents, then portraying how he masturbates in the shower afterward, the only time he gets any privacy. Also, the stark contrast in mood, tone and action when Noodles has sex with the landlord and when she sleeps with Six is just heartbreaking, highlighting her plight and making their relationship more poignant.
Be Alive Just Like You may seem quite a departure for Lai, whose previous feature, Stand By Me (陪你很久很久), was a schoolyard romcom about unrequited love. But that film also dug deeper than that of its ilk and examined more mature themes under the teenybopper sappiness.
Photo courtesy of Vie Vision Pictures
Lai tries to deliver somewhat of an uplifting message of hope and survival amidst the despair in this film, but the events that transpire are just too depressing for one to feel much positivity. While there are some heartwarming and tender moments between the two leads, the film just makes you question if there is any meaning in life, a theme that they grapple with.
This speaks to the acting chops of Cheng and Chiu, who deliver convincing and moving performances that draw the viewer into the world of the less fortunate, a topic increasingly popular among filmmakers. Their sorrow and the glimmer of hope they still somehow carry becomes painfully relatable, and even the sleazy landlord that preys on the disadvantaged has his human side and is more fleshed out than the usual trope.
The cinematography is stunning, mostly shot in the dark and claustrophobic alleys of Ximending, and the lighting and music are masterfully utilized to set the atmosphere. The only time there is any respite is when the lead couple go for a joyful stroll on the riverside, and the sunlight in that scene feels especially warm after all the darkness they go through.
Fortunately this is not another drawn-out affair, clocking in at 91 minutes but already saying so much about the human condition, highlighting issues from sexual violence to discrimination against the disabled. Anything longer would have been overkill.
Be Alive Just Like You(親愛的殺手)
DIRECTED BY: Lai Meng-chieh (賴孟傑)
STARRING: Cheng Jen-shuo (鄭人碩) as Six, Ally Chiu (邱偲琹) as Noodles, Cheng Chih-wei (鄭志偉) as Brother Wen
LANGUAGES: Mandarin and Taiwanese with Chinese and English subtitles
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
TAIWAN RELEASE: In theaters
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