Part of the 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.
The Terrorizers aka 恐怖分子
dir. Edward Yang (1986) scr. Hsiao Yeh and Edward Yang cin. Chang Chan with Cora Miao, Lee Li-Chun, Wang An, Ma Shao-chun
In 100 words: Often cryptic and deeply unsettling, Terrorizers set the foundation for New Taiwanese Cinema’s exploration of ennui and disaffection in post-war Taiwan. Yang’s cynical vision of modern urban life in Taipei presents characters that are in one way or another, stuck in purgatory, who are then undone by a series of coincidences. By employing Bressonian edits, cinematography that captures a dreamlike plasticity, and Ozu-esque framing of space, Yang perfectly visualizes emotional violence and internal desperation succinctly without becoming completely abstract. The script’s amorphous structure yields uncomfortable surprises, but the startling conclusion may actually be that living is the most terrifying thing.
Other Movies for Context: Essayists have often compared Yang’s film to those of Michaelangelo Antonioni’s, particularly his London-set Blow-Up (1966), about a photographer who think he captured in pictures a murder in progress. But The Terrorizers is very important in Taiwanese film history for paving the way for Tsai Ming Liang and other Taiwanese directors who focus on Taiwanese urban life. Tsai’s Vive L’Amour (1994) and What Time Is It There? (2001) are the most direct films that reference Yang. A more distant, and uh cringe-inducing brother of this movie, will probably be Paul Haggis’s Crash (2005), but that’s cow poop compared to this.