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Rebels of the Neon God

Tsai Ming-liang

Tsai Ming-liang emerged on the world cinema scene in 1992 with his groundbreaking first feature, Rebels of the Neon God. His debut already includes a handful of elements familiar to fans of subsequent work: a deceptively spare style often branded “minimalist”; actor Lee Kang-sheng as the silent and sullen Hsiao-kang; copious amounts of water, whether pouring from the sky or bubbling up from a clogged drain; and enough urban anomie to ensure that even the subtle humor in evidence is tinged with pathos. The loosely structured plot involves Hsiao-kang, a despondent cram school student, who becomes obsessed with young petty thief Ah-tze, after Ah-tze smashes the rearview mirror of a taxi driven by Hsiao-kang’s father. Hsiao-kang stalks Ah-tze and his buddy Ah-ping as they hang out in the film’s iconic arcade (featuring a telling poster of James Dean on the wall) and other locales around Taipei, and ultimately takes his revenge. Rebels of the Neon God is a remarkably impressive first film that hints at the promise of its director: a talent confirmed by Tsai’s equally stunning second feature, Vive L’Amour (Golden Lion, Venice), and continuing to his most recent film, Stray Dogs, which ranked high on many “best of” lists last year. Though showing such diverse influences as the French New Wave, Wong Kar-wai’s early films—and, yes, Rebel Without a Cause—Tsai’s film is most remarkable for introducing his startlingly unique vision to world cinema.

“A near-masterpiece…as close as contemporary filmmaking gets to the essence of poetry.“—Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Chicago Reader

“Tsai Ming-Liang’s first feature, from 1992 is a luridly lyrical vision of adolescent rage and lust in Taipei… With longing gazes, antic and violent outbursts, and exquisite coincidences set amid his fetish objects—leaky pipes and bloody wounds, fast food and bathroom fixtures—Tsai depicts the city as a spontaneous, sticky, erotic ballet.” – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“In places, Rebels is as muted and slow-burning as you expect a Tsai film to be, but just as often, it’s vibrant, nervy, altogether rock ‘n’ roll; one shot shows Hsiao-Kang contemplating a James Dean poster, and a terse John Carpenter-ish electronic bass line throbs throughout. The color is as vivid as the title promises: there’s a striking cut from the red lights of Ah-tze’s bike at night to the deep blue of a roller disco.” – Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Comment

“Tsai takes instruction from a film like Touki Bouki for its engagement with dominant, fashionable film styles, but for the purpose of renouncing it. If Djibril Diop Mambéty’s film sought to castigate the French bourgeoisie for its insouciant demeanor in post-colonial relations with Senegal, Tsai’s film quite similarly integrates key French and American points of cinematic reference on violence and masculinity to subtly assail them.” – Clayton Dillard, Slant


  • 8/8 | 8:00PM
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