Director – Yang Ya-che – 2017 – Taiwan – Cert. 15 – 112m
A dysfunctional family, a property investment scam and sex and drugs meet head on in this impressive, female character-driven Taiwanese drama-thriller – exclusively in these cinemas for three days from Friday, September 4th
One family, three generations of women, each with their own demons. Middle aged matriarch Madame Tang (Kara Wai) is in the process of setting up illicit property deals with a network of corrupt state officials to the tune of $3m Taiwanese. Her scheming daughter Tang Ning (Wu Ke-Xi, writer and star of Nina Wu / 2019) is involved in sexual intrigues and addicted to a lethal mixture of drink and prescription meds. Teenager Tang Chen (Vicky Chen Wen-chi) seems both incapable of forming healthy relationships of any sort with other people and constantly spying on them through gaps in doors or curtains – or just by being in places she’s not really wanted.
Tragedy befalls the Lins, one of the families involved in Madame Tang’s scheme, when they are shot dead in their family home by intruders. Somehow their teenage daughter Pien (Wen Chen-Ling) survives the massacre. Her boyfriend Marco (Wu Shu Wei) is the murder suspect. If he were confirmed as the killer, the case would be cut and dried.
But is Marco really the killer? Pien may or may not know the answer, or might at least be able to provide pointers to the case. Or at least she would if she wasn’t in a coma in hospital. And therefore not of much use to the investigating Police Captain Liao (Aaron Fu) unless she happens to wake up and remember something.
The narrative has two unrelated sets of framing devices. The whole thing is bookended by an episode decades after the main thrust of the narrative in which the adult Chen, now equipped with a false leg (its surface beautifully decorated with intricate artistic designs), goes to visit the dying matriarch at her bedside. What then follows in flashback is both framed and punctuated by two presenters, a singer playing a stringed musical instrument and an old man with a cane, as if they were something like supernatural TV celebrities hosting a show. This latter element doesn’t translate particularly well to the West, although perhaps it would make more sense to those familiar with Taiwanese popular culture.
The film is populated for the most part with strong women and weak men. There are no husbands or brothers in the family and no indication of who the girls’ father or fathers was or were. Most of the men here are little more than sex objects. One is the romantic interest of the comatose Pien with whom Chen becomes infatuated and who turns out, in the films closing scenes, to be considerably less passive than most of the men here and to boot a thoroughly nasty piece of work. The other is Detective Liao, towards who Madame Tang pushes Ming with intent to have her daughter seduce him.
However it’s the highly dysfunctional family of three women spanning three generations and the tensions between them that dominate the proceedings. There are plenty of twists, turns and intrigues here to keep you guessing, some so convoluted that you may want to come back for a second viewing to work them out. It’s impossible to single out one of the three leads as they’re all terrific, although the three roles are very different and there’s a case for the teenage Chen being the main character since much of the film is told from her point of view. Somewhat incredibly, this Taiwanese film never got a big screen release in mainland China, making its release in the UK all the more welcome. And in cinemas too!
The Bold, The Corrupt And The Beautiful is out in the UK exclusively in these cinemas for three days from Friday, September 4th. Watch the film trailer below: