Friday, 18 December 2009


Hsiao-Kang, a young Taiwanese student, sits at home ravaged by ennui. Having stabbed a fly to death with his compass, he puts his arm through a window and winds up nursing his lacerations for the rest of the evening. Such behaviour is apparently normal for Hsiao-Kang, given the sickening pressures of cram school and his uneasy relationship with his family. Meanwhile, across town we meet Ah-Tze and his girlfriend Ah-Kuei. The two are reasonably casual with their relationship, and spend time together infrequently. When Hsiao-Kang and his father drive past the couple on their motorbike, Ah-Tze smashes their mirror with a bike lock, setting off a series of events that sparks Hsiao-Kang uneasily into revenge mode, with disastrous consequences.

Though on the surface it’s no different to most other films about urban alienation, Rebels of the Neon God is special in that it refuses to treat its young renegade characters like quirky anti-heroes. By contrast with Hsiao-Kang, Ah-Tze and his colleagues undoubtedly seem like the bad kids, but when we see them up close, it is clear they too are just trying to make the best of their situation. The nocturnal cityscape makes a beautifully theatrical setting, echoing the young characters’ undying energy and restlessness. This was director Tsai Ming-Liang’s first feature-length film, a fact that is easy to forget given the strength of the characters and the credibility of their relationships. Calling it the Taiwanese American Graffiti might be going a step too far, but it certainly fulfils expectations.

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