Director: Gilles Yang 楊雅喆
Studio: CMC 中環, Atom 原子, Kaohsiung People* 高雄人, CS Productions 喆雪
Language: Mandarin 國語, Taiwanese 台語, Cantonese 粵語, Japanese 日語
Running Time: 112 minutes
The Tang family appear to be a perfect trio. Mrs Tang 棠夫人, Tang Ning 棠寧 and Tang Zhen 棠真 attend parties in faultless matching outfits and mingle with high society.
The three of them seemingly work as a team to advance the family interests: Mrs Tang, the matriarch; Tang Ning, the seductress; and Tang Zhen, the innocent angel.
Together they have positioned the family amongst legislators and bank managers, at the very top of Taiwanese society.
But, in private, the family is breaking apart.
Tang Ning cannot sleep at night. Drugs, men, alcohol — nothing seems to satiate her.
Tang Zhen is an obedient and filial daughter — and yet she spies on her best friend and sister, and sings to herself about her loneliness.
And Mrs Tang has her own plans.
One day, Tang Zhen’s best friend Lin Pianpian 林翩翩 is almost killed when the rest of her family are brutally massacred.
The police suspect Pianpian’s boyfriend, stable boy Marco 王金山, who was seen running away from the house that evening.
But why is Tang Zhen harbouring him? And what kind of dealings did the Tang’s have with the Lin family?
The undeniable success story of this year’s Golden Horse Awards, The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful is a film that thrills on many levels. Writing the plot summary was a challenge, because we did not want to give away any of the multiple twists.
Although less overtly based on Taiwan’s history than director Gilles Yang’s last film, 2012’s GF*BF 女朋友。男朋友, it nonetheless maintains that film’s social commentary and world building through its references to real events.
Where GF*BF is very much a film about the end of martial law and democratisation, The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful is about what came next in the 1990s. Much of the drama revolves around the illegal sale of land, a topic that was (and occasionally remains) extremely controversial. The story of a whole family being murdered by an aboriginal (like Marco) who had their ID card taken away is famous in Taiwan. Then there’s the political corruption (another 1990s topic) and gangsters.
It might sound surprising that all of this can fit into a film without being obtrusive.
That it does is a testament to the filmmakers, and actors. We will start with the actors, specifically the 3 leads: Kara Wai 惠英紅 as Mrs Tang, Vicky Chen 文淇 as Tang Zhen and Wu Kexi 吳可熙 as Tang Ning. The former two won the Best Actress prizes at the Golden Horse Festival, but in our eyes all three put forth absolutely wonderful performances. If nothing else, we would recommend The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful on the basis of their performances alone.
However, there is plenty else to admire. The atmosphere that Yang creates is aided by some excellent set and costume design. When attempting to evoke a certain time and place, small details such as these are crucial. The manner in which the narrative unfolds is also incredibly clever. This is a film that rewards careful viewers, and although it more than holds up under a single viewing, it is a film that we found even better the second time around.
The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful rounds out what has been a very strong year for Taiwanese movies. It is this reviewer’s film of the year, and with only a few weeks left of 2017, is likely to stay that way.
If you get the chance to see it, take it.
*we were unable to find an official English name for 高雄人. If the company has an official name, please let us know and we will use it.