Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Great Buddha+

The Great Buddha+ is a true art-house film, and has had a release that fits that - New York and Los Angeles back in January, streaming, spots at festivals and other short bookings, and heading back to theaters for an end-of-year push, presumably related to it being selected as Taiwan's Oscar submission (and maybe or maybe not related to the HFA booking it for an evening). That it was selected is kind of interesting, in that it actually played Taiwan in October 2017; the calendar for Foreign Language Film releases runs October to September - presumably an artifact of when it might take months of negotiations, work, and booking to have the film ready for a release near the ceremony - so this is kind of like a movie released in January or February hoping to be seen among the more recent entries.

Will it get an actual nomination? Odds are long for anything to make the shortlist let along the final slate of five, and I don't know how much the Academy still tends to favor the genuinely boutique items like this in that category as opposed to something with more mainstream appeal on top of being kind of fancy. I, personally, don't really love it, kind of feeling a bit disappointed considering how much distributor Cheng Cheng had been talking it up all year; they'd released a few of the more interesting movies that crossed the Pacific quickly before that.

Worth a trip to the HFA even if there was the kind of rain that destroys my cheap shoes Monday night, and I was still saddened when the host for the evening mentioned David Pendleton in her intro. It's a $5 rental on Amazon right now, and likely worth that. It's specialty, cinema that often doesn't even get the sort of booking it belongs in a city like Boston, the sort of singular thing that has a hard time breaking out.

Da fo+ (The Great Buddha+)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2018 in the Harvard Film Archive (special presentation, DCP)

Huang Hsin-yao's The Great Buddha+ seems like a movie that could use a little more context to be truly appreciated outside its own region, whether by seeing how it fits in with Huang's documentary work, what it adds to his short film "The Great Buddha", or just knowing a bit more about the part of Taiwan where it takes place. Taiwan's submission for the Academy Awards is an interesting bit of work, but likely richer with a bit more background.

It makes jokes about that on occasion, as one man answers a question about his background by describing the poster hanging behind him. Huang breaks the fourth wall like that from the very start, where his narration reads out the names of the companies and producers that put the film together and returns every so often in order to make a wry comment that sometimes adds a bit more information that might not come out otherwise but just as often serves to point out the film's artifice. There's a certain value in that - being reminded that this is just a movie may keep viewers honest about just how much they've learned about this place from watching it - but these moments do threaten to get a bit cute.

The place in question is the fringes of Taichung, where Pickle (Cres Chuang) works as a night watchman at a factory that makes religious statues, with the biggest current job a Buddha that will be used in an upcoming Dharma Assembly. He passes the time with his friend Belly Button (Bamboo Chen Chu-sheng), a scavenger who collects bottles to recycle and the expired food left outside supermarkets; they can't even afford to drink. Their latest way to pass the time is to watch footage from the dashcam from Pickle's boss's car, a weird combination of prosaic shots out the windshield and the sound of various young women performing fellatio on him. One of those women, Feng Ju Yeh (Ting Kuo-lin), was waiting for Kevin (Leon Dai) outside the factory, but they don't see her again until they're looking at more footage later, and then… Well, what can they do? The rich and connected have all the power.

Full review at EFC.

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