2019 Golden Horse Awards
The News Lens
By: CJ Sheu
Photo Credit: SKY FILM Entertainment
The key to a good joke is the timing. More generally, a joke is funny because of its delivery rather than the content. Canadian stand-up Norm Macdonald is famous for his hilarious execution, which gets people to laugh at things that they really shouldn’t laugh at. As a cishet man, I have the privilege of turning my brain off and enjoying the impeccable comic setups of the many queerphobic jokes in The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead (“江湖無難事”). The undeniable humor of these jokes is a problem for the audience (including me), and an even bigger one for the film.
Gangs is about BS (Roy Chiu) and Wenxi (Huang Di-yang; the character’s name roughly translates to “bound to fail”), two childhood friends who decide to make a zombie movie. The production gets derailed, they run out of money, and they end up working for a mob boss (Lung Shao-hua). Their wedding video work for the Boss convinces him to finance their movie, with a proviso: The female protagonist, a pure and innocent high schooler who’s dating her teacher, must be played by his, um, lustful squeeze, Shanny (Eleven Yao). Soon after, she has a fatal disagreement with some poolside concrete. But the show must go on.
Director Kao Pin-Chuan displays a stylized mastery of filmmaking technique that’s a wonder to behold. He and his editor, Shieh Meng-Ju, have an almost preternatural sense of comic timing that amplifies every slightly awkward moment into a laugh-out-loud gag. The camerawork guides the events of the film: it alternatives between energetic handheld shots that propel the narrative forward and static close-ups that allow momentous events to sink in. Better yet, cinematographer Garvin Chan lights even the darkest image just enough to make it comprehensible, something a surprising number of contemporary films fail to consistently do.
This exemplary technique, however, is used to paper over the film’s questionable sexual politics, slapdash plot, and presumptuous world-building. Unexpected events often happen to our two leads (and their accomplices), keeping them on their toes. But they often get away with their shenanigans only because the script (by Tsai Yi-Ho and Birdy Fong) declines to give us their comeuppance scenes. Or when it seems like they’re doomed for sure, the Boss suddenly does an about-face. It’s a series of comic set-pieces strung together with excuses. [FULL STORY]