4 April 2013 | Abyss47
Welcome to hell on earth.
This bleak Taiwanese epic based on a true story exposes the dark side of growing up in a harsh environment at a young age. I know what you're thinking, "Wow, so original." But, even though it's far from being the first film of its kind, let alone the best, it manages to stay unpredictable throughout and packs plenty of surprises; think of the grand sweep of The Godfather flicks and that's similar to what you get here. Visually, it doesn't really stand out in any significant way - at least from the print I saw. Instead, going for a more down-to-earth, gritty approach, which I liked because it suited the material. With that said, Director Edward Yang makes great use of long shots and keeps things very subtle, and I honestly can't think of a single bad or out-of-place angle in the film. The cast consisting almost entirely of nonprofessionals is very natural in their roles, even eerily believable at times when the film reaches disturbing moments - and there's a lot of those. It's a no-holds barred film that refuses to compromise itself for the sake of making the viewer feel safe or comfortable.
As a coming-of-age film, it's one of the very best. As a tragic romance, it delivers due to its Shakespearean quality. As a crime film, it can stand toe-to-toe with some of the very best of them. Even more impressive is that the film is able to cover so many important and (still) relevant issues and effectively explore the human condition without any heavy-handed morals or messages. The film is as straightforward and honest as they come, making it that much more engaging. And yet, despite all its qualities, it's not a film with universal appeal. Most would frown at its bleak approach and wonder where all the praise comes from. Others would skip it entirely due to it being a slow 4 hour film with no exploitative elements. Others would be wishing everyone were killed off and/or there was more action and pretentious imagery they could easily gravitate towards. Others.....well, I think you get the picture. Ultimately, those who would get the most out of this film are those who are willing to acknowledge that the world is a messed up place and some movies are going to reflect that. So, if you're easily offended, go back to watching "safe" Hollywood pictures, because you won't be able to appreciate this underrated gem. And yeah, that's me being a condescending prick. Sue me, what I say is true, and those who have seen the film know I'm right.
I'm going to go ahead and admit right off the bat that what I just wrote does not do justice to the film's level of substance and depth. This is merely a description. Others have gone far more in-depth into what makes the film so good than I'm capable of doing from a single viewing, so I recommend reading what they've wrote as well.