Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2023 5:31 pm 
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Illegal migrants targeted by a serial killer

Tseng Ying-ting's The Abandoned strikes a warm note of homage to Wong Kar-wai and the best Asian movies of the nineties by opening with "Only You" by The PIckets, so hauntingly - and catchily - used at the end of Wong's Fallen Angels. It's being played by Wu Jie (Ning Chang), a depressed homicide detective sitting in a car with fireworks in the sky outside as she holds a big pistol to her head. She seems unable to find the right angle, but she's further saved from ending it all by a sudden hubbub and somebody banging on her window. There's just been a corpse found washed ashore nearby. Duty calls.

The body turns out to be that of one Waree Napho, a young Thai illegal worker (the subtitles call them "runaway workers"), and she was strangely, ritually murdered, her heart and ring finger removed. A graphic coroner's exam - you know the kind - with the young woman rookie forced to turn away - is an early scene. Cai Wei-shan, he girl rookie - you know the type - graduated at the top of her in the police academy, but she really does look and sound like a little girl.

The director and his co-writers Pin Chun Lin and Yi-Chien Yang are not trying to reinvent the wheel here. In fact there are many familiar elements of the serial killer police procedural. But they're well done, and there are new elements, the focus on women, and on illegal workers with fake ID whose security is fragile even without a murderer targeting them. The result is a satisfying, well-made film, with the kind of attention to detail and knack for creating atmosphere that this kind of film requires.

It turns out that Yang Zhen-guo was Wu Jie's police husband, and his suicide is what made her become despondent. Malaise seems contagious. But Wu Jie's boss, the head of homicide (Chen Wei-Min) is the seasoned veteran type who acts as a stabilizing influence here, demanding that Wu Jie stay to help the young female rookie on the case, but also assuring her she'll be alright.

The film's focus now temporarily turns to the engaging, lightly bearded Lin You-sheng (Ethan Juan), who's now in trouble because a female dead body has been found in a factory. Lin recruit migrants for jobs, especially Thai women, of who Walree was one. He tries to calm the other illegal Thai workers; but how can he?

To avoid the police, Lin must bury the body in the mountains by himself. In the meantime, his girlfriend, Waree, has lost touch. Wu Jie finds Lin and asks him to identify a body found earlier that turns out to be Waree. Lin is seen by the cops now as the prime suspect in what are clearly serial killings. They turn out to be as weird and ritualistic as you could imagine in this well written and well made film that David Fincher himself might admire. An-Shun Yu makes a very creditable villain.

Forty-one-year-old Taiwanese director Tseng Ying-ting, whose The Last Verse five years ago (NYAFF 2018) was an earnest treatment of the dilemmas of youth and globalization, this time goes genre, grounding an with an existential edge and reference to the dilemma of refugees in the format of a satisfyingly traditional and well-executed police procedural. Sometimes you can say just as much that way, crabwise.

The Abandoned 查無此心 ("I Don't Care"),128 min, in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Thai, debuted at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)'s Competition section Oct. 22, 2022, followed by its Taiwanese premiere at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival on Nov. 5, also Singapore, Rotterdam, and Netherlands. Six nominations at Golden Horse.

Cast: Ning Chang, Ethan Juan, Chloe Xiang, Sajee Apiwong
Languages: Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Thai with English Subtitles
Year – 2022, Runtime – 128 min

Wednesday, July 26
9:00 PM - Walter Reade Theater

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