Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 25, 2022 4:30 pm 
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TOM TENG: LIFE FOR SALE 售命 (TAIWAN 2021) NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL

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FU MENG-PO, JOANNE TENG IN LIFE FOR SALE

No time to die

This movie from Taiwan about a failed young insurance salesman Liang (Fu Meng-po) makes desperation fun. There's a daft, ironic nihilism about it that recalls early writings of William Burroughs and might have been directed by the Cronenberg of Naked Lunch.We're in a kooky urban purely cinematic world. With its candy-colored noir style, its desperados in the subway, it's elaborate failed suicide attempts (by attempting to consume fatal amounts of cinnamon, chewing gum and carrots), its cockroaches and the loosely-slung young female neighbor Yu-jen (Joanne Tseng) with a teenage son needing a heart transplant who comes over to drink, this is a sprightly and fast-moving tragicomedy full of youthful bravado. As time goes on the movie drifts into genre violence which is over-the-top fun but drifts from earlier promise.

After he gets fired from the insurance job for socking a high-earning stiff - since the income hs's bringing in, a bespectacled female accountant totes up, is less than they are paying him, Liang sets out to follow the theme of the eponymous Yishima novel he picked up on the subway, Life for Sale. (A nice detail is the lingering smell of vomit on the book cover from Yu-jen throwing up on it one night.) He decides to sell his life for real, on the internet. But once he makes known how little he values it, the more others seem to value his existence: e.g., a mysterious woman (Janel Tsa) who urgently seeks a test subject for a high-stakes experiment. Interesting and well costumed characters turn up: a medical experiment, and shady old Mr. Wang (Tsai Ming-shiou), who wants someone to perform dangerous tasks, including getting back a stolen dog from a vicious rival crime boss. Liang spends the rest of the film fighting off unsavory characters out to get him.

Things may begin to seem a little random by halfway into the 105-minute runtime. While the outcome is uncertain, the irony of the situation is clear, how Liang's death instinct has made him desirable material for various oddballs with missions. We could have used a pause for breath or a change of tone: this is a film where a completely new chapter, like in Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels, would have been welcome. But producer now first feature director Tom Teng in his enthusiasm misses, as feature debut helmers often do, the need to pause for air. The temptation of stylish pop genre violence has been too great. It's fun, but it swallows up the film's earlier promise.

However the first twenty-five minutes of so are among the freshest and most stylish footage the NYAFF has to offer this year, and we must be grateful for that. Better luck next time, Mr. Teng.

Life for Sale 售命, 106 mins., Mandarin and Taiwanese, English subtitles, debuted in Taipei in early May 2022. Screened for this review as part of the July 15-30, 2022 New York Asian Film Festival. International Premiere.

NYAFF SHOWTIMES: Showtimes
July 24
9:30 PM
Q&A with Tom Teng
Walter Reade Theater Lincoln Center

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