This film from Taiwan is quite different to the usual Taiwanese films, at least those most familiar to Westerners, such as the works of Hou, Tsai and Yang. In comparison, this film is quite light. Even so, apart from the entertainment factor, it does present some aspects of Taiwanese culture that non-Taiwanese might find interesting, but which Taiwanese themselves may find clichéd.
It is a comedy about a loser and the trouble he gets himself and his family into when he borrows money from Black Dog (a gang leader) under false pretenses, namely the death of his father, who was a friend of Black Dog. As expected, the tangle of lies and false appearances grows uncontrollably, involving his wife, a policeman brother (who aspires to become a Taoist master), his wife and her team of pole-dancers.
Thus far, the plot is fairly standard, and though there are a couple of surprises along the way, the denouement is hardly unforeseeable. The real strength of the film was the set of performances by the actors, each of whom played their parts excellently. They were, of course, playing well-written characters, which always helps. Even the minor characters were given scenes that helped round them out, turn them into people with a history and a personality. Whether enough is provided for each of these story lines is arguable, however, though I thought it was an effort in the right direction.
Besides the quality of the characters, I also found interesting the incidental insights into traditional culture, in particular, the Taiwanese funeral traditions which, given the plot, receive ample attention.
As a comedy, it is hard to say if this film works entirely, and certainly not because of an outstandingly original plot (though it does have its moments). Rather, it is from the strength of its numerous characters and their entertaining performances that more enjoyment is derived. There is a nice balance of drama, visual and spoken humour, as well as a sense of the absurd, so that this film operates on more than one level. Whether this is a strength or weakness is debatable.
Both Mandarin and Taiwanese are spoken, and the latter adds extra flavour, especially for the interested non-native. Ironically, a Taiwanese viewer may find it all over-simplified and stereotypical, as did the reviewer in one Taipei newspaper, but for the present reviewer, at least, it was a diverting couple of hours.
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