Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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HUNG TZU-HSUAN: THE SCOUNDRELS/狂徒 (2018) - NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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WU KANG-REN IN THE SCOUNDRELS

The mayhem and the speculation

It would seem strange for a fan of Edward Yang and Ho Hsiau Hsien to think of a violent crime movie out of Taiwan, but a story from Vancouver dated less than two weeks ago is headlined "Crime dramas dominate this year’s Taiwanese Film Festival." So there you are. One title listed, strangely, is from 2017 and was in last year's NYAFF, The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful - but that's because it's the Taiwanese Film Festival of Vancouver. A brief but knowledgeable review of The Scoundrels comes from LP Hugo of Asian Film Strike, a young Parisian who writes in impeccable English and who's clearly a big fan of Asian actioners.

The Scoundrels is an actioner, alright. In fact you have to sift through the nearly nonstop violence of the first twenty minutes to locate the plot elements, in particular a protagonist, Ray (aka Rui aka Liao Wen-jui) (JC Lin), who's a pro basketball player so disgraced after he beats up a member of the crowd in a terrible fit of anger during a game that he's not allowed to play ever again, and, because his debt to the injured party leaves him broke, drifts into servile tasks for a crime boss, setting up hits for a sophisticated car theft ring.

Through an attempt to do good that goes awry, he becomes the sidekick of the anonymous Raincoat Robber aka Ben / Wu Shun-Wei (Wu Kang-Ren). This relationship between Ray Ben LP Hugo calls a "love/hate bromance," and once it gets going and one has gotten used to the high speed, adrenaline-drenched action, things start to make sense, though Elizabeth Kerr is right her in Hollywood Reporter when she says this film "zips by so economically there’s no time to register its flaws." That's part of what's going on.

The NYAFF blurb explains that /Ray has been "hijacked and framed for robbery" while he is "trying to help an injured woman." The robbery he's framed for was done by the Raincoat Robber. The latter stops Ray from helping the woman to escape in a car driven by him, and it's thus that Ray gets drawn into what the blurb calls "a downward spiral of crime, treachery, and violence." And then you realize this idea of a Raincoat Robber, who holds up armored cars wearing a motorcycle helmet and raincoat, in heavy rain, is another way of inducing a heavy dramatic mood in scenes where the viewer also can't make out all the details. LP Hugo unintentionally points to another flaw when he describes Ray and Ben respectively as "coarsely juvenile" and an "amoral cipher." Their volatile, shifting relationship may be interesting, but they're not very worthy of our time otherwise.

We join the obligatory young-old cop duo, chatting in a car, at thirty minutes. They go to the hospital to interview the injured woman. This interlude provides a rather overdue interlude of relative quiet. But their roles are vastly overwhelmed by the mayhem perpetrated by Ray and Ben, first acting as a team, in gang boss Hsiao-Hei's gambling den trying to get some money back. The Ray/Ben action goes too fast, and the two-cop one goes too slow. Another thread involves Shin-jei (Chien-Na Lee), Ray's former girlfriend, a physiotherapist.

The interesting thing about this film is that while some people are quietly trying o figure out what happened, we're also following Ray and Ben's evolving relationship and eventual partnership in crime, so what happened becomes irrelevant. And there is a real and structurally nice contrast between the mayhem and the speculation about it. However the end is in mayhem and violence and a grimly ironic finale that gives a sense of an ending, yet is absurd. Well done, one must admit, for someone who previously made only short films.

The Scoundrels 狂徒 (Kuang tu), 105 mins., debuted at Busan Oct. 8, 2018 and also showed in Oct. 2018 at Kaohsiung and BAFICI - Buenos Aires. Screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
Monday, July 1
6:00 PM
Walter Reade Theater

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