The way these characters’ lives carom and collide in their orbits, and the unforeseen ways they affect one another, are captivating, even if the film’s world seems a little too hermetically sealed at times. Yes, the interconnectedness of young urban lives is a major theme, but Terrorizers isn’t a magical-realist work like, say, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, and so its too-convenient coincidences strain credibility at times.
But, that criticism aside, Terrorizers feels like a major work from an exceptional cinematic storyteller, a sort of small-scale epic with the emotional range of a great novel. By turns romantic, tragic, enraging, and deeply sympathetic, the film plays out its multiple story threads with a sure directorial hand and an understated but expressive visual style (John-Louis Vialard’s cinematography is first-rate).
“A sort of small-scale epic with the emotional range of a great novel…”
The cast really rises to the occasion, as well. There’s not an off performance among the main ensemble nor the handful of supporting characters that surround them. Austin Lin, as the most intense and psychologically troubled member of the principal ensemble, is likely to been seen as a standout; he’s got a piercing stare that burrows straight into your soul. But Terrorizers is balanced in a way that allows each one of its major players pivotal moments that turn on their distinct and finely wrought personalities. J.C. Lin brings a winning boyishness to Ming Liang’s idealistic ambitions and do-gooder bravery, for example, and Yao agilely handles the moments when Kiki drops her flirty-schoolgirl act when she (a little too belatedly) realizes that she’s in trouble.
Those moments, some of which are seen multiple times as events are replayed from different points of view, are the core of what makes Terrorizers the affecting, mature drama that it is. The climax that Ho builds to mostly involves unspoken outpourings of feeling, rather than operatic flourish, and the closing shot is an absolute thing of beauty. That a film about a brazen public katana-sword attack could finally arrive at a moment so graceful is not just audacious – you might even call it brilliant.
Terrorizers screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…feels like a major work from an exceptional cinematic storyteller..."