This omnibus film, consisting of three 35 minute shorts, is considered - along with 'In Our Time' - the beginning of the New Wave of Taiwanese cinema. All three of the short films are based on stories by Huang Chun-ming about 1960s Taiwan.
The collection takes its name from the first of the three (in Chinese the title is 'The Son's Big Doll'), by Hou Hsiao Hsien . It is a tale of a 'Sandwich Man', who dresses as a clown and carries placards back and front advertising films for a local cinema. Using many flashbacks, this is a real slice-of-life piece from Hou with many of the techniques and the same appeal as his longer films. (Incidentally, one of the posters he carries advertises 'Oyster Girl', itself an important Taiwanese film, praised for its 'healthy realism'.) The second film is 'Vicki's Hat', directed by Wan Jen, tells a story of two itinerant salesmen trying to sell cheap Japanese rice cookers in a small coastal town. The 'Vicki' of the title is a young local girl who always wears a hat, stirring the curiosity of one of the salesmen, while the other is determined to make sales so as to return to his pregnant wife with head held high. Flashbacks are used to give more background to the salesmen's training and personal situations.
The third film, 'The Taste of Apples' by Zhuang Xiang Zeng, is more humorous, and tells of a worker who is run over by an American colonel and then taken to an American military hospital. His large family visit him there, where they are informed of the generous compensation they are due to receive. Moving to the city was perhaps not such a bad idea after all, especially if you are lucky enough to be run down by an American officer! The acting is very naturalistic in the first two films, and a little more melodramatic in the third, according well with its lighter, amusing tone. All three films use numerous flashbacks, no doubt as a way to give background detail quickly while showing how it relates to the present situations of the characters.
The state of Taiwanese society at the time is clearly visible in all three stories, and they are fascinating for this alone. This is clearly a deliberate break away from escapist action or romances, and it is easy to see how Sandwich Man would become of such importance for the development of Taiwanese film. For this reason, it is also a hard film to rate exactly. In terms of cultural significance, it is indispensable. Its entertainment value is also quite high, for the stories are all well presented, though I would recommend it most for people already familiar with the works of Hou Hsiao Hsien and other 'New Wave' directors, and who can appreciate the quiet, cumulative power of such films, whether long, or in this case, short.
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