Friday, 27 June 2008

THE TERRORIZERS (Edward Yang, 1986)

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.


girish said...

Marc, I haven't seen this film yet but FYI, I remember seeing a chapter devoted to it in Fredric Jameson's The Geopolitical Aesthetic.

Marc Raymond said...

Thanks, Girish, I remember hearing about that reference but it had slipped my mind. More reading to return to (haven't read Jameson in many years).

Shubhajit said...

Came across your blog while surfing, and have developed an instant liking for it. I've immensely liked the two Park Chan-wook movies - Oldboy & Lady Vengeance,& liked both immensely, & so am all for exploring more into the Korean territory. Unfortunately i haven't watched any Edward Yang movies though i've heard a lot about him.

The best by decades & years that you've included in your blog is a terrific idea. Even though they are your personal views & i don't agree with some of the rankings (for me Taxi Driver is the best movie of the 70s & Fargo has to make the top 10 of 90s), but they provide a great starting point for debate apart from introducing me to some very good movies that i haven't watched.

Marc Raymond said...


Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the whole top ten lists are meant to try to introduce films people may not know and to give an idea of my own perspective as well as simply how much (or little) I have seen.

Park's films are quite interesting, you should try to track down SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE as well. I've just downloaded his most recent film from a couple of years ago, I'M A CYBORG, BUT IT'S OK, but haven't watched it yet. I've also been reading a book on him published by the Korean Film Council that includes biographical info and interviews along with analysis. Worth checking out if you're interested.

As for Yang, try YI YI to start, it's his most accessible film in terms of availability and style.

Shubhajit said...

C'mon, its obvious you've watched a hell lot of movies and i envy you for that (yup, i said that). Its for cinephiles like me who need a catching up to do.

i'm trying damn hard to get my hands on Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in order to complete the celebrated "Vengeance Trilogy", but the download is too slow for comfort. Have heard lots of praise for I'm Cyborg but its Okay, too. Do let me know more about the book that you mentioned.

i agree, Yi Yi, being Yang's most popular movie, should be a good place to start.

Marc Raymond said...

You can order the Park book at, although I'm not sure about delivery issues. The book is fairly cheap ($14 US).