Monday, March 07, 2011

[In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang] A Confucian Confusion (独立时代 / Du Li Shi Dai)


This stage of the retrospect has moved to the 90s of Edward Yang's career, and I've left A Brigher Summer Day for the weekend instead. After three films of Yang's on the trot involving heavy and heady tales on the systematic breakdown of relationships, this one may seem like that breath of fresh air being an almost laugh a minute comedy, but who would have thought that it presented one of the most stinging criticism by the filmmaker on Taiwan society at the point of great economic progress, where moral values and principles get thrown out in the pursuit of material success, and in its place people become empty, souless vessels?

Perhaps the telling remark of A Confucius Confusion comes in its introductory intertitles, and while I may not fully appreciate the deep meaning behind the couplets and why they actually ended hanging in mid air, the words do seem to point out that Taiwan is an economic Tiger, achieving great success in about 20 years and this rapid road to wealth had consequences now explored by the filmmaker through the myriad of characters created and criticized about, being extremely cynical for the most parts, and shows a particular disdain that Yang probably had on the yuppie generation.

The characters here crisscrosses into one another's lives, and it's pretty exhausting to keep track of everyone and everything they do, especially since they are all quite unlikable - I think Yang has a knack for creating such characters to the point that we don't hate them, but are disdain about their existence, perhaps being reflective at times on some of the identifiable traits that we ourselves do possess in a parallel, economic wonder that seemed to be lacking a coherent, solid identity, with the pursuit of economic wealth being a top drawer focus, and everything else being secondary.

Which makes one of the character's concept fairly interesting, as Larry (Danny Deng) talks at length about emotional investment, and his philosophy on it as he tries to practice what he preached. It's fairly simple in a way, though when you spell it out it makes one seem like a calculative bastard with ulterior motives in friendship, being there for others, and expecting that one day someone will be there for you too in a somewhat reciprocal treatment. Like I said, it's a very cynical view, and there are enough in this 125 minute film to see how everyone just drips cynicism all the time, engaging in musical chairs styled friendship with shifting loyalties, friends only when it suits or benefits.

Even someone who seem to be innocent like Qi Qi (Chen Shang Qi) becomes outcast in some way as putting up pretences, and the film warns of how void and empty a society this can be should everyone adopt a disbelieving attitude, wondering if the things people do out of goodwill, come laced with a more sinister motive behind it. Amongst the other characters are Ni Shi Jun (whom I know more from the Hong Kong movie Esprit D'Amour starring Alan Tam many, many years ago) as Molly the head of a multi-media company, Akeem (Bosem Wang) as the boyfriend who constantly suspects that Molly is having an affair, and Birdy (Wang Yeming) the loud mouthed amorous writer who's being accused as a plagiarist, whom I think becomes the loudest mouthpiece for Yang to air his barbed criticisms aimed squarely on the state of artistry in the creative industries.

As I mentioned, the shenanigans of the characters are extremely tiring to bear witness to, although the comedy come at a pace that's fast and furious, with a joke just around every corner delivered under rapid fire dialogue, which A Confucian Confusion excelled in. I somehow disliked how the narrative unfolded through the constant use of bilingual intertitles, but hey, what do I know?

P.S. And who would have expected that the NMS managed to get Pierre Rissient in person to make a brief introduction to the film and of course to talk a little bit about Edward Yang! I think everyone in attendance today were quite shell shocked since this wasn't part of the intended programme! Nice!


The National Museum is now presenting a Retrospective of Edward Yang (November 6, 1947 – June 29, 2007), one of Taiwan's leading filmmakers in its New Wave, probably best known for his film Yi Yi (2000) which got him the Best Director Award at Cannes.

It's a complete retrospective that will offer an insight into his life through roundtable sessions with his former collaborators, friends and academics. and you can find the full details of the screening over at this link, which contains a profile of specially invited guests, film titles, screening details, and a list of the free admission programmes.

Here's a quick summary:

In His Time: The Films of Edward Yang
A Programme of the National Museum Cinémathèque
Day/Date: Wednesday, 2 March – Sunday, 13 March 2011
Time: Various screening times
Venue: Gallery Theatre, Basement, National Museum of Singapore 93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
Tickets: $8 per person, $6.40 (concession), [excluding SISTIC fee]
MRT Station: City Hall/Dhoby Ghaut
Contact: 6332 3659 / 6332 5642

and you can find out more details from this link.

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