The Taiwan Film Festival finished today, and I was able to see another early Edward Yang film, The Terrorizers (1986). Last week I saw Yang's Taipei Story (1985), and although it was quite different from Yang's later Yi Yi (2000), there were enough similarities to suggest a cohesion. The Terrorizers, on the other hand, has almost nothing in common with later Yang, and only connects with Taipei Story through the milieu.
The Terrorizers tells a story connecting numerous characters and how their lives intersect. Like many such narratives, the last half is much more compelling, especially on first viewing, because of the difficulty of establishing so many characters and their various interrelationships. Even by the conclusion, there are a number of aspects that I still find puzzling and unexplainable. However, this does not take away from the power of the plot's unfolding. There is not just one but two artist characters in the film: a male photographer and a female novelist. As a result, the unfolding of the character's lives is presented in a very self-reflexive manner, in which art does have a profound influence on lives, even if this impact is mostly on the personal level. In addition to the two artist figures, Yang also includes a character, nicknamed "the white chick" (she is actually Eurasian), who is blatantly symbolic. Despite these distancing devices, the film never loses its sense of lived reality in modern Taipei. That said, it lacks the social zeitgeist quality of Taipei Story.
The influence of the European art cinema is very present here, probably more than Taipei Story. I found the often noted resemblance to Antonioni more prevalent here, as well as a continued affinity with Wim Wenders. But the film that I was reminded of most while watching The Terrorizers was not from the past but rather a work made a decade later, the Korean film The Day a Pig Fell in the Well (Hong Sang-soo, 1996). The rather drab look of both films, along with their multi-character narratives, are initially oft-putting but become gradually more effective as they progress. The figure of the artist is prominent, as is common with both Yang and Hong. The two works also share an interest in surrealism, as evident in the presence of sudden outbursts of sexualized violence as well as unmarked dream sequences towards their respective conclusions.
I doubt if the influence on Hong was direct. But it is interesting to note that both Yang and Hong, early in their respective careers, made similar films that merged European cinematic styles within their own emerging national cinemas. As it turned out, Hong would be more consistent in his output than Yang, although Hong's first film remains the most unlike the rest of his remarkably consistent output. As for Yang, I'm anxious to track down his 90s work to see how he moved from these early studies of modern and post-modern Taipei to the very different Yi Yi in 2000.