“REBELS OF THE NEON GOD” (“Qing Shao Nian Nuo Zha”)
Disconnected Despair and Urban Decay
Director Tsai Ming-liang brings us the story of Hsiao Kang who quits school and heads for downtown Taipei where he falls in with Ah Tze, a pretty hood. Their relationships are a confused mixture of hero-worship and rivalry that soon lead to trouble. The young people here aren’t interested in reacting to life or interacting with those around them. They don’t want to do anything although there are a few short scenes in which they do seem to care. Things go wrong, actions don’t work out, attempts to actually be involved end up in not going the way that these kids think they should go.
The subject of the film (as I said in the title of this review) is the disconnected despair that results from urban decay. We get quite a look at loneliness in the city through the use of humor and pathos. By following three troublemaking teenage boys and the people closest to them, we see an epic story of the repetitiveness of the boys’ routines. We follow them into video arcades that are filled with countless youth, obviously in the same state of mind and their condition seems to be part of a national epidemic.
The focus is on the gradual, inevitable social withdrawal of Hsaio Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), a young slacker who still lives with his discontented parents. Seemingly friendless at the start of the film, he retreats further into his insular world as the movie progresses. Each attempt that he makes to reach out to another causing emotional isolation that is total. He is representative of antisocial behavior. The way he behaves seems to be less than social deviancy than of a person who reacts to his surroundings in the way the world has conditioned him to do so.
There is a loose structure to the plot allowing us to add our own thoughts to what we see on the screen and, all in all, this is quite an impressive look at something that affects so many. It is no wonder that this has become a cult film.
The film opens at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Quad Cinema in New York City on April 10 and at the Nuart in Los Angeles on June 12.