Criterion Prediction #105: The Terrorizers, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Terrorizers
Director: Edward Yang
Cast: Cora Miao, Gu Bao-Ming, Chin Shih-Chieh, Lee Li-Chun, Feng Kang Chu, Shanqun Hong, Shaojun Ma
Synopsis: The various actions of people from different walks of life intertwine in the city of Taipei. Zhou Yufen is a despondent novelist whose life is at impasse both in her creative pursuits and her relationship with her hospital administrator husband Li Lizhong, who is also under strain because of his candidacy for a potential promotion. Meanwhile, a drug bust turns into a gunfight, and a young delinquent known as White Chick and her boyfriend fled the scene of the crime however a photographer has captured the incident and develops a fascination with the White Chick, renting the apartment where the inciting action occurred.
Critique: Edward Yang’s work isn’t the easiest to get a hold of but if you open yourself up to his deliberate style and labyrinthine narratives, his movies will seduce you on a sensory level.
There’s a stunning sense of contrast in Yang’s cinema, his consolidated epics (Yi-Yi, A Brighter Summer Day) are deftly executed; handling an extensive array of characters, labyrinthine narratives, and broad thematic canvas Yang’s handling is smooth, unimposing and delicate.
Gangs and crime factor highly in Yang’s filmography but The Terrorizers feels the boldest in its depiction of violence; the inciting action at the film’s starting point opens things up with an unexpected jolt. There’s an air of familiarity in the oblique dissonance of the violence. The presence of identifiable, bushy haired gangsters, and hardnosed cops aside, it’s established that we are in the stylistic wheelhouse of a particular filmmaker.
As the exterior action concludes, the interior dissolution begins. The connective tissue of the multiple narratives is a bit vague during the first act. Modern sensibilities calibrated to more obvious narrative cues might contribute to this disconnect, but the despondency resonates with the films intuitive expression, it’s best to exercise patience and see how this balancing act of intercutting storylines will come together.
Taiwanese identity for Yang’s generation is one of listless alienation; the lingering abandonment can be found in and around the characters. The film’s setting of modern Taipei, a central force in all of the director’s work, seems to play a larger, more menacing role.
The Terrorizers is often compared to Antonioni’s Blow-Up—as they both hinge on their protagonist’s obsession beginning with a photograph—but Yang’s penchant for articulating the minutia of disintegrating identity is just as, if not more, affecting than Antonioni’s for its slyly fortified political undertones.
As a third feature, there’s a remarkable sense of clarity in handling this complex narrative and we can see that much of The Terrorizers is a prelude to his following A Brighter Summer Day and especially the elaborate crime satire Mahjong. But The Terrorizers feels to be in a league of its own for its biting sometimes brutal lensing of modern life, and the unpredictability of violence and fate.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: A Brighter Summer Day was a blind buy for me, predicated on the film’s legendary status as a lost masterpiece and, once that status was confirmed, Yi-Y and Taipei Story were gobbled up and then, most recently, The Terrorizers. The presence of the Taiwanese New Wave in The Criterion Collection has been on the rise for the past few years. While we are eagerly awaiting an inclusion from a director like Hou Hsiao-hsien or Tsai Ming-liang, it feels like Criterion would continue with Yang’s work. With the rising popularity of The Terrorizers, which was screened at certain venues shortly after the Criterion release of A Brighter Summer Day following its recent DCP restoration, this could come true.