The Great Buddha+
This Taiwanese black comedy has its pleasingly absurdist moments, but the dissatisfying nature of the conclusion makes the film as a whole feel exhausting
Two local scavengers who live on odd jobs and food scraps and a security guard at a firm which makes large statues of Buddha watch the latter’s boss’s dashcam camera (and the sounds of his various sexual exploits) for entertainment. When some events start to add up in unsettling ways, they are drawn into a world of shady business deals and midnight crimes. What starts out as a slow yet promising satirical comedy goes nowhere: there may be a point made in this narrative that nothing changes in a corrupt land, but the relentlessly downbeat way in which it is told culminates in an underwhelming and unsatisfying conclusion.
The three central performances are arresting in their naturalism – director Hsin-yao Huang knows how to make the every day and the mundane in these men’s existences captivating. When their worlds begin to change, their almost nonplussed reactions ring true. Other characters are painted in broader strokes, serving more as plot devices or comic relief. Meta-commentary from the director – established over the opening credits – provides situational irony and unforced laughs (sometimes the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to chime in, notably in the first half, which adds some genuine absurdist humour). Much of the rest of the time, however, the laughter is forced or uncomfortable: the graphic nature of the sex scenes and frank voyeurism exhibited by the lead characters are entertainingly scandalous the first time and then, as these scenes continue, the shock value turns to discomfort.
The film might be dark comedy throughout, but the beginning is peppered with enough oddball moments and character commentary that it keeps its momentum. By the time the credits – preceded by drumming over a black screen – roll, the film’s atmosphere is decidedly soured. The fact that no one and nothing substantial changes at the end, despite one character’s death, could be read as biting social commentary – as it seems that, by all laws of dramatic structure and justice, something should now be different. While a clear-eyed satire, The Great Buddha+ does not deliver a satisfying conclusion, which makes the whole film slightly exhausting to watch.
The Great Buddha+ screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival
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