There’s always something charming about a filmmaker introducing their film. It’s a rare privilege generally reserved for film festivals and grassroots productions. We get a sense of their own character and how that relates to what they manifest on the big screen. However, every so often a director is courteous enough to include a personal introduction within the film, offering their unfiltered voice, genuine or not, to contextualize their vision.
Before an image hits the screen, Taiwanese director Huang Hsin-yao delivers one of these personal greetings through a tempered voiceover:
“…this film is a joint production of MandarinVision and Creamfilm … we invited the notoriously difficult Ms. Yeh and Mr. Chung to act as producers. I’m the director who saw it through to the end… I will from time to time chime in with a few words to share my own ideas and explain the story. Please enjoy the film.”
“…an enormous sculpture of the Buddha…serves as the narrative nucleus for the corrupted politics that ironically surround…”
His recurrence plays on the traditional form of commentary typically left in the DVD extras. He explains narrative elements that aren’t necessarily important but that would be impossible to surmise otherwise. It’s a clever form of experimentation that adds a layer of self-awareness to the already sophisticated film.
The Great Buddha + is the expansion of Huang’s 2014 short film The Great Buddha. The fabrication of an enormous sculpture of the Buddha, a symbol of asceticism, serves as the narrative nucleus for the corrupted politics that ironically surround. Our protagonists are Pickle (Cres Chuang), the night security guard, and Belly Button (Bamboo Chen), the recycling collector (miscredited as “Belly Bottom” on IMDB). Their boss, the owner of the company that constructs the giant Buddha figures, spends his nights seeking sex with younger women. Through the dash cam recordings of his Mercedes-Benz (notably the only parts of the film left in color), we track his escapades with the enraptured and envious employees. There is nothing to see but dark roads beyond the hood of the car, but raunchy audio gives us enough to imagine.
When the surveillance footage swings from raunchy to violent, the relationship between the poor voyeurs and their promiscuous boss facilitates a study of class stratification as a criminal barricade. As employees of the guilty party, the prospect of justice implies a hit to their own wellbeing. Meanwhile, the Buddha watches silently from the studio.
“The strength of the film comes from the symbolic devices that decorate the strikingly illustrated social ladder…”
The strength of the film comes from the symbolic devices that decorate the strikingly illustrated social ladder, particularly on the road: an enormous Buddha flies down the highway on a flatbed truck, a woman carries an IV on the back seat of a motorcycle, the hood ornament of the Mercedez is bent. Adding to the fun is the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, often by the vocal director, but not always. For instance, when one character makes a snide comment about a pink shirt, the other moans that, because the scene is black and white, the audience wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t mentioned it.
With The Great Buddha +, Huang Hsin-yao makes a brilliant first impression on the international film scene. It seems safe to expect he will join the ranks of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang in carrying the torch for New Taiwanese Cinema.
The Great Buddha + (2017) Written by Hsin-yao Huang; Directed by Hsin-yao Huang; Starring Cres Chuang, Bamboo Chu-Sheng Chen and Leon Dai; Shot by Mong-Hong Chung and Edited by Hsiu-hsiung Lai; Produced by Mong-Hong Chung and Ju Feng Yeh.
8 out of 10 Oscars