A film that insists on history to dramatise the evils perpetuated on the Chinese population by Unit 732 of the Imperial Japanese Army, which dehumanised the Chinese as Murats during WWII in order to conduct biological experiments on them to weaponise biological warfare. History here is an alibi for exploitation of the worst kind. The film positively revels in the various kinds of torture to men, women and children. We compare it to Holocaust films and find it wanting by almost every ethical criterion. We denounce the clear cruelty to animals evident in the film; and we mourn the descent of such a talented filmmaker to this level of exploitation. The podcast may be listened to below:
We discuss our fourth Mou Tun-fei film, A Deadly Secret (1980). It was made the same year as the more sensational and political Lost Souls, and suffers in the comparison, being an entertaining but generic and unsurprising Martial Arts Romance. It also suffers in the comparison to his earlier humanist, nuanced and visually remarkable Taiwanese films, I Didn’t Dare Tell You(1969) and The End of the Track (1970). It is nonetheless quite enjoyable; and we talk about all this and more in the podcast below:
As you can see in the film below, the film feels very patriarchal. The story is melodramatic, about an impossible love only united in death. Desires are frustrated by family and politics. The film offers a critique of corruption but seems to accept the gender relations as they are. A taste of that is evident in the gif below:
The film also has very entertaining early special effects, good martial arts choreography, interestingly edited, as can be seen below.
You can get a taste of what the film promises in the trailer below:
Mou Tun-Fei goes from the New Wave-y neo-realistic aesthetic of I Didn’t Dare Tell You(Mou Tun-fei, Taiwan, 1969) and The End of the Track(Mou Tun-fei, Taiwan, 1970)and into exploitation territory. Lost Souls is pulpy, dynamic, exciting and exploitative. It’s an exploitation film and it exploits women: they have their clothes taken off, the camera lingers on their bodies, on their degradation, on the sale of these women to whorehouses. The audience, which we assume to be men, is meant to get off on all of this.
Mou Tun-fei is an equal opportunity exploiter and there is also torture and rape of men. The film is clearly highly influenced by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film, Salò: 120 Days of Sodom and we discuss their differences and similarities. We do not agree with Victor Fan’s argument that, Lost Souls, …. is a shot-for-shot remake in a much more commercial way of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò. He also added an action sequence, which is of course very unlike Pasolini.’
We note influence but also argue that is nowhere near as good, complex, or political. There is a clear homosexaul gaze in Pasolini: he gives more weight to the men. Mou Tun-fei focuses more clearly on the women. Sodom is an archetypal art film of its day, and even begins with a bibliography urging viewers to brush up on De Sade and Barthes! But aside from questions of genre, aesthetics or value, the claim of shot-by-shot simply doesn’t hold up, though we do see a clear influence of the earlier film on the latter.
We also discuss how Lost Souls is unquestionably an exploitation film but not all exploitation films are as effective and as political as Lost Souls; and our discussion lingers on the opening sequence of the boat people and the arrival of one of the escapees onto Hong Kong’s Diamond Hill. We discuss the effectiveness of the crushing disappointment that accompanies the realisation that streets are not paved with gold there and that it is in fact one big, fragile ghetto. A fascinating film, which we recommend.
The Harvard Film Archive and the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute are currently making available two newly re-discovered films by Tun-Fei Mou. The films may be seen here and are supported by introductory discussions by Dr. Victor Fan from King’s College London an Wood Lin, Program Director of the Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival.
This podcast is on The End of the Track, a film that feels like an undiscovered classic of World Cinema, beautiful to look at, heartfelt and very moving. Two young boys, Hsiao Tung and Yung Shen, enjoy a friendship so close they’re accused of being queer. They themselves don’t know what that means, and just like being with each other better than with someone else, even though they fight quite a bit and are from different social classes.. When Yung Shen (Tu-Yuan Tsai), the working-class boy, dies in a sporting accident, Hsiao Tung (Da-wei Chen) feels guilt over what’s happened, and tries to take responsibility for it, to no avail. A haunting, mysterious film, beautiful to look at and deeply moving. We discuss the hows and whys of all of this in the accompanying podcast.
The clip of the death, which we discuss in relation to the editing, may be seen here:
Some images from the film discussed in the podcast in relation to the sparseness of the compositions, their beauty, and their relation to the rest of Taiwanese Cinema (note landscape) may be seen below: