THE GANGS, THE OSCARS, AND THE WALKING DEAD

★★

A SCREWBALL CRIME CAPER

TAIWAN FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
21st July 2020

Kao Pin-Chuan's 'The Gangs, The Oscars, and The Walking Dead' introduces us to BS (Roy Chiu) and Wenxi (Huang Di-yang), two best buds who decide to make a zombie movie. When they run out of cash, the pair end up working for a mob boss, Brother Long (Lung Shao-hua) and their wedding video work - an amusing scene has them filming an indoor funeral with a drone - convinces him to finance their magnum opus. After all these years, Wenxi looks set to achieve his dream of winning an Oscar and becoming the next Ang Lee ('Gemini Man').

Unfortunately, in a twist swiped wholesale from Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway', the mob boss insists that the female protagonist, a chaste highschooler who's dating her teacher, must be played by his shrill-voiced, spectacularly untalented gangsters moll Shanny (Yao Yi-ti). Unlike Allen's film, she only makes it a few minutes into the story before meeting her untimely demise.

'THE GANGS, THE OSCARS, AND THE WALKING DEAD' TRAILER

Seeing no other way out, the duo borrows another plot point, this one from Ted Kotcheff's classic 'Weekend at Bernie's'. BS, Wenxi, and their makeup artist (Joy "A-Shi" Lin) try to shoot the film with Shanny's preserved body, complete with a bellows-like apparatus under her shirt to simulate breathing. This idea fails and the plot becomes even more madcap when they recruit a transsexual entertainer (Yao Yi-ti) who looks identical to Shanny to assist in their scheme.

Kao Pin-Chuan's film has more characters and subplots than it knows what to do with, and its performances are all over the place. It feels like an uneven mix of Shion Sono's deliriously violent gangster comedy 'Why Don't You Play In Hell?' and Shin'ichirô Ueda's earnest tale about family and zombie-filmmaking, 'One Cut of the Dead'. However, it doesn't have the craziness of the former or the heart of the latter. More importantly, it skimps on the behind-the-scenes details of wannabe-auteur Wenxi's actual filmmaking process, something the aforementioned films excelled in. The characterisation is thin (particularly for BS), while the humour is broad, cartoonish and doesn't always land (there are a few tiresome gay panic and transphobic jokes).

Even when it's trying one's patience with throwaway gags or bits of over-the-top brutality, the movie has energy to spare - it's fast paced, with frenetic editing, bursts of colour and creative use of lighting (particularly a gun battle in a pitch-black room between rival gangs).

Nonetheless, even when it's trying one's patience with throwaway gags or bits of over-the-top brutality, the movie has style and energy to spare - it's fast-paced, with frenetic editing, bursts of colour and creative use of lighting (particularly a gun battle in a pitch-black room between rival gangs).

Maybe it's just pure luck that the breathless messiness of 'The Gangs, The Oscars, and The Walking Dead' doesn't cancel out the charm of Kao Pin-Chuan's quick-cut filmmaking, which syncretises slick techniques and goofy old-school fun.

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