Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Don't Answer the Phone: Edward Yang's "The Terrorizers"

The pivotal tragic action at the center of Edward Yang's remarkable 1986 film "The Terrorizers" is barely given emphasis. A disgruntled gang members girlfriend, named "White Chick", makes a prank phone call to a female writer (Cora Miao)describing that her doctor husband (Lee Chi Chun) is having an affair. Already in the midst of marital discomfort through her inability to finish her novel and he in the middle of a major shake-up at work, this declaration of infidelity pushes them (and the film itself) into a mirror hall of art versus reality and violent urges. Despite the fact of any real truth behind the phone call, "The Terrorizers" gets both its title and its quiet tension through this obfuscated act that defines the intelligent work of Edward Yang.... a filmmaker who slowly builds up the pieces of the puzzle and forces the viewer to infer the major moments of his work through instinct and feeling.

In addition to the malaise of the married couple, there's a teenage photographer (Shanquon Hong) who films the opening raid in which White Chick flees from the cops, and in a bit of Hitchcock-like obsession, falls in love with her. He rents out her apartment and creates a wall-sized mural of her pictures. At first, his presence in the film feels like another cog in Yang's spinning modern Taipei society, but its his interpretation of White Chick's apocalyptic phone call that begets the bloodletting.

The most thrilling aspect of "The Terrorizers" is not the very thin above plot synopsis. Yang's films defy description, really. Filmed in 1984 and '85 and eventually released in 1986, Yang and fellow countryman Hou Hsiao-Hsien were just beginning to break through on the international scene. "The Terrorizers" and Hsiao-Hsien's early 90's films are breathtaking for their introduction of a new cinematic vernacular. The way their camera slowly swivels around in a scene, following and observing the interaction between the characters rather than directing the action... the non-linear editing style that continually places the viewer in identification mode... or the depth of field out windows, around hallways or through doorways. It's all very distinctive. And "The Terrorizers" is one of Yang's early efforts in a long line of distinctive and impressive works.

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