The Best of Times | Chicago Reader

The Best of Times

Director Chang Tso-chi is the poet of Taiwan's second generation of filmmakers, a loosely defined group who followed new-wave masters such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang. Theirs is a smaller-scale cinema of urban textures, with lost youth wandering through ennui-saturated empty spaces. In his third feature Chang wraps this sensibility around a typical kids-in-gangland story and infuses it with his own gentle brand of magic realism. Two young cousins fall in with Taipei gangsters, drawn to the money, the excitement, and the chance to moor their drifting lives. Levelheaded Wei's attempt to stay on an even keel is constantly frustrated by the actions of short-fused Jie, who precipitates the inevitable lurch into violence. Yet Chang's films are more visionary experiments than narrative exercises. Here he envelops each scene in a gorgeous half-lit glow, immersing Wei and Jie in virtual water—like fish in an aquarium, one of the film's recurring motifs. Family life is another of Chang's preoccupations, and this film's finest scenes re-create the boys' homes in a strikingly realistic series of tableaux that pulsate with overlapping dialogue, nervous tension, crackling humor, and jazzy entropy. In Mandarin with subtitles. 109 min.

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