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God Man Dog

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Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- It's hard to say whether "God Man Dog" ("Liulang ren gou shen") is a flawed accomplishment or an accomplished failure. Director Singing Chen is obviously gifted with an exceptional visual sense that makes nondramatic images move on an intuitive level. However, her attempt to fashion an allegorical tragicomedy about the crisis of faith in contemporary Taiwan out of a mosaic of characters and plot lines, which crisscross like telegraph poles, is jumbled and difficult to grasp.

The film's attractive representations of Taiwan's coastline scenery and exotic religious spectacles could sit well with an art house audience. However, its unconventional narrative may try the patience of mainstream audiences.

"God's" artistic vision can be described as a cinematic equivalent to the magic realism of Isabella Allende's novels, such as "The Stories of Eva Luna," in which the sacred and profane, social reality, dreamscapes and epiphanies co-exist on the same imaginative plane.

The film spins four tenuously linked threads, each following the hopes and disappointments of four "couples." Ching (Tarcy Su) is a hand model who suffers from postnatal depression. She becomes estranged from her husband after their baby's cot death during his absence.

Aboriginal Biung tries to overcome alcoholism by trusting in God and his paternalistic pastor. While couriering some peaches, he and his wife hit a snag that leads to moral and spiritual chaos.

Biung's teenage daughter Savi aspires to a career in a kind of freestyle kickboxing called "Sa Da Combat." However, she gets roped into her bosom friend Xiao Han's reckless (and wickedly funny) schemes to scam clients of S/M call-girl services.

Yellow Bull (Jack Kao) is a one-legged psychic with the compunction to help stray dogs, homeless gods and shifty hitchhikers. When he gets tipped in dreams of where religious statues have been thrown away, he finds and mends them. On the Festival of Hungry Ghosts, he picks up Xian, a truant boy (Jonathan Chang, "Yi Yi") who hides inside the luggage compartments of coaches. Perpetually famished, could Xian be a hungry ghost?

A fateful car accident brings these modern pilgrims together.

There's a lot that Chen tries to cram in, like the emotional problems of urbanites, social problems of aboriginals, commoditization of the body, even a lesbian undertow. Yet, when she tries to pull everything together, the dramatic pieces just don't slot into place because there's no space for the characters and their internal landscapes to breathe. Just when you're about to lose yourself in a scenario, the narrative cuts back and forth to other scenarios. It's like making the audience play mental musical chairs with no chance to sit still and absorb everything.

The film's saving graces are the cast's understated performance, distinctive production design and cinematography, which presents a splendid palette of graded colors and image quality of depth. Somehow, the ethereal beauty of certain silent shots wraps itself around you like a lover, making you reluctant to let go of the film's memory.

GOD MAN DOG
The 3rd Vision Films/Sharppoint China/Ocean Deep Films/UES Cinetech Inc.
Credits:
Director-screenwriter-editor: Singing Chen
Screenwriter: Lou Yi-an
Producer: Yeh Jufeng
Director of photography: Shen Ko-shang
Production designer: Huang Mei-ching
Art director: Lee Tien-chueh
Music: Hiromichi Sakamoto
Cast:
Yellow Bull: Jack Kao
Ching: Tarcy Su
Biung: Ulau Ugan
Xian: Jonathan Chang
A-xiong: Chang Han

Running time -- 119 minutes
No MPAA rating