Classic Chinese Cinema: The Terrorizers

“The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away”
-Edward Yang


the terrorizers photo

In my last 3 posts of this classic Chinese cinema series,I’ve covered cinema from Mainland and Hong Kong,today I’m introducing an early masterpiece from a towering figure in Taiwan cinema history,Edward Yang,who is also my favorite Chinese-language film director.

Yang only shot seven feature films and a short during his career,because of the distribution problem,his films can not be easily seen by the Western audience,his most popular film in the West is his last work Yiyi,following Yiyi is his incredible epic A Brighter Summer Day,which is considered by many critics as his best film.However,the first film won him world-wide acclaim is the film I’m going to write about,The Terrorizers.


The Narratives

Yang is famous for his genius artistry to tell a complex story with numerous characters in an intriguing way.At the beginning of this film,Yang showed three sets of stories and characters which seem disconnected,a rich young photographer who becomes obsessed with the girl captured in his frame,an unhappily married couple who are going through the bottleneck period of their lives together,and a part-time whore who is kept as a “prisoner” by her mother.People could get bored in the first half an hour because the casualty of narrative and the slow pace of story developing.

As the story progresses and characters get intertwined with each other,things get interesting,the plot is pushed by a series of casual lies,first Chou receives a phone call about his husband’s infidelity which is a lie from White Chick,then she uses it as a excuse to lie to his husband Li to leave him,and at the same time,Li receives another lie that he would be promoted in his company,unbearable of both,he goes to his policeman friend to lie to him that he gets a raise.

In the end of the film,Yang presents us a lie of his own,using his skillful narrative tricks to arrange a very reasonable “ending”,which is Li kills all the people who pisses him off which indicates he is the biggest terrorizers in the film.Then as the last gun shot goes,we surprisingly find that it is a suicide by Li,all those previous killing scenes are all surreal,which is also convincing and indicates the opposite meaning of the surreal scene,that Li is the only victim in the film and people around him are all terrorizers.


The Accuracy of Characters and Relations

This story happens in Taipei in the middle 1980s but it could be universal,anyone who lives in Urban China can find the character in their own selves even now.Let’s have a look at those typical Chinese urban characters and relations:

Li:The central character of this film,facing typical middle age crisis,both his love and career is going through a bottleneck period.He is too naive and just doesn’t know how to handle relations,when he gets the long-waiting promotion opportunities,he takes it for granted that a sabotage will secure his chances,but still fails because his best friend is more vicious than him.

He doesn’t understand his wife,he believes that as he gets a promotion or her book gets published,a new life will open the door for their embarrassing relations.He doesn’t know that his ambitions in career has already caused an infidelity seed growing in his wife’s body.

Chou:Just like her husband,puts too much heart and energy in her career,unsatisfied with the relations and complains all the time,she has no idea what she wants out of their relations,her success of publishing the book is totally random and her love towards her ex-lover is no more substantial than the love between her and her husband.

Relations between Li and Chou:Everybody on its own,no care and no trust,both can’t figure out what goes wrong and thus can’t find any solutions,their relation is as fragile as the large collage photo in the breeze.

Young Photographer:Born with a silver spoon in his month,plays with cameras and calls it art,regards himself as the best photographer with sharp eyes,betrays his girlfriend easily for a photo of a strange girl,who turns out to be a whore.

White Chick:The opposite of the young photographer,grows in poor and unstable family and is raised in messy neighborhood.Rebellious without a cause and has no idea what love is.

Relations between Young Photographer and White Chick: Love is just like a game.


Who’s the terrorizer?

Unfortunately,probably everyone of us.One can easily plants a bomb into others’ heads and becomes a terrorizer even without knowing it.When the bombs get more and more in one’s head,they would explode like the tragedy happens to Li.I think the only way to avoid being one is to fill oneself with love,which is lacking in every character in this film.


You can watch this film here(with English subs):

Or buy a Blu-ray copy here

For anyone who has seen this film,here is a wonderful video from The 7th Art


Other classic Chinese cinema posts in this series:

Classic Chinese Cinema: Xiao Wu (Pickpocket)

Classic Chinese Cinema:Raining in the Mountain

Classic Chinese Cinema:The Love Eterne