In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

6 Underground

It becomes repetitive, nonsensical, and just loud after everyone gets an origin story and we're left with nothing to do but go boom.

Bombshell

Bombshell is both light on its feet and a punch in the gut.

Other reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other reviews
Great Movie Archives

Reviews

The Great Buddha+

The Great Buddha+ movie review
  |  

I understand enough of the arch, but uninspired Taiwanese black comedy "The Great Buddha+" that I can't help but feel underwhelmed by it. That’s a miserable feeling, because it's a movie I'd been looking forward to since the announcement of its initial (and immediately delayed) American release back in February. But here it is, “The Great Buddha+,” a stiff, unyielding parable about a bunch of amiably doofy factory workers who step in it but good when they discover, through dash-cam footage, that the local Buddha factory's boss likes to pay prostitutes for sex. A good part of the film’s meaning is in its title, albeit in a characteristically vague, pseudo-poetic way: the film was "expanded," in the words of writer/director Hsin-yao Huang, from a 2014 short film (and boy, does it show) called "The Great Buddha" because Huang began working on his relatively new feature at the same time that the iPhone 6+ was released. That Wiki-friendly bit of trivia (not an exaggeration) says a lot about "The Great Buddha+," an ideologically sympathetic movie that nevertheless uses a very boring approach to rail against unchecked political and capitalist corruption.

Advertisement

"The Great Buddha+" doesn't have much of a plot since its narrative's shapelessness is ostensibly a political statement unto itself. We follow security guard Pickle (Cres Chuang), his frenemy Belly Button (Bamboo Chu-sheng Chen), and fairweather companion Sugar Apple (Shao-Huai Chang) as they watch dash cam footage of smug big-wig Kevin Huang (Leon Dai), the pseudo-benevolent owner of a Mercedes Benz (ooh la la) and a factory that produces gigantic brass Buddha statues. Also, depressed convenience store clerk Peanut (Na-Dou Lin) is sometimes there, too (he works on “Savon,” a rip-off of “Seven-11”). Pickle and the gang's anglicized names say a lot, albeit indirectly, since they’re essentially a too-blunt-to-be-clever commentary on the way that industrialization reduces people to snacks and/or a cutesy body part that we associate with, well, navel-gazing. But I'm getting off-topic, even if I suspect that that's the point of thinking about "The Great Buddha+:" to let your mind wander, since that's the most human reaction of all, blah blah blah.

The first 60 minutes of "The Great Buddha+" concern Pickle and the gang's slack-jawed, unhurried surveillance of Kevin through dash-cam footage (from Kevin's Benz) that they stumble upon. This dash-cam footage is presented in color while the rest of "The Great Buddha+" is in black-and-white. Filmmaker Huang laconically explains this difference through self-deprecating, but intrusive (and frankly unnecessary) voiceover narration. So: Huang’s petty, but harmless proles watch dash-cam footage of Kevin, a wealthy, connected muckety-muck, have sex. That situation is inherently surreal, though Pickle and his buddies' dry, Jim Thompson-worthy commentary adds an extra layer of absurdity, like when Sugar Apple observes "Your boss turns into a real p---y when he's on the phone," to which the too-meek-to-inherit-anything Pickle replies "Don't badmouth people like that."

At about the hour mark, the proverbial waste hits the fan, though Huang anti-climactically tells us, both visually and through voiceover, what will happen before then: a member of Pickle’s group is killed and the local cops use heavily edited dash-cam footage to make it look like an accident. Now Huang's focus on dash-cams—as a testament to the human spirit’s encroaching degradation—starts to make sense. The lazy pacing, the black-and-white footage, the cartoonish drawl of Huang's voiceover narration: all of this is a rebellion against the way that dash-cam footage and other too-neat "images" are used to narrativize and reduce the complexity of modern life to a highlight reel. 

Advertisement

Which may sound good, but "The Great Buddha+" is one of those movies that's much more rewarding to think about than it is to watch. I predict that it will be the subject of dozens of media studies papers, all of which put in in the context of modern Taiwan and its complex post-industrial economy. I bet those papers will be edifying, but, like "The Great Buddha+,” they’ll also be pretty dry. I know there isn’t supposed to be any narrative momentum, but there's also rarely any poetry in Huang's black-and-white photography. We see inspiration-less images that are supposed to be beautiful for beauty's sake, like images of rainwater collecting in a puddle or a field of tall grass rippling in the wind. And Huang’s characters are so thinly-drawn that his big ideas wear thin fast.

Everybody in this film is a shill, a prostitute, a pushover, or a simp. Nobody with power is introspective and nobody without power matters (a dichotomy that even Pickle inevitably realizes when his own uncle tries to sell him over-priced sunglasses while Pickle begs for help caring for "Mrs. Pickle," aka: Pickle's mom). It's a bad scene where you agree with everything being said but still can't wait to go home. But that's all "The Great Buddha+" has to offer: bad times, and in such meager portions, too.

Popular Blog Posts

Cannes 2019: Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

A review of the newest film by Quentin Tarantino.

The Best Television of the Decade

The top 50 shows of the 2010s.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Not defending the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A Far Flung Correspondent weighs in on the MCU controversy.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus