The Terrorizers (1986)


This is one of director Edward Yang’s lesser known films and as such I probably would never have ever watched it. My wife requested it however as apparently it is going to be a topic of discussion for a writing class that she is taking. A few minutes in and we understand why the class’ teacher picked it. One of the characters is an aspiring writer who is worried that her monotonous daily routine as a housewife is undermining her ability to come up with new and interesting material.

That however is just one of the three narratives that the film weaves. Other characters include a pretty young woman who is involved with gangsters, the writer’s husband who is ignorant of his wife’s restlessness, and a young street photographer who unwittingly becomes a witness to all the drama. As usual in many such films, these threads eventually become tied together in the form of coincidences and misunderstandings. For the most part none of the plot developments are particularly inventive or surprising and my wife and I made a little game of calling out twists just before they happen. That’s just one of the many reasons why the oddly named The Terrorizers isn’t a particularly good film.

Considering how much I liked A Brighter Summer Day, this judgment was a surprise even to myself but it’s true. It’s doubly fascinating to notice how many of the same elements that worked out well in A Brighter Summer Day makes The Terrorizers feel very amateurish instead. Take the wooden acting and awkward delivery of dialogue. It feels realistic for adolescents to speak and act in this manner as it reflects their lack of confidence and that they’re still learning how to interact socially with other people. But when adults act like this, it jarringly reminds you that this is all fake as it’s just a film. The writer and her husband are supposed to have been married for over ten years. Whatever their marital problems, you’d expect them to be at least comfortable with one another. Instead they have some of the worst on-screen chemistry I’ve ever seen.

The film makes other embarrassing mistakes as well. One of its opening shots is a dead body lying face-down in the middle of the street in the early morning light. It’s a shocking sight that you’d expect to set the tone for the rest of the film but it turns out to not be very relevant at all and I don’t think we ever learn the identity of the dead person. There’s no real follow-through and certainly no investigation. It feels like Yang simply thought it would be cool to have a shot like that. It seems churlish to say this of one of Taiwan’s greatest directors, but The Terrorizers feels very much like a student effort, as if he were still learning the tricks of the trade while making it. Oddly, this wasn’t his first feature film. It was his third and he would go on to make the amazing A Brighter Summer Day only five years later.

Even the angst that the writer feels, arguably the main reason why my wife’s professor wanted to draw attention to this film in the first place, comes across as being immature and contrived. It touches on the questions of artistic creativity so shallowly that it might as well not be present at all. The best that can be said is that Yang feels earnest and that he is genuinely trying to make something interesting but that’s a very long way from saying that it’s any good.

Overall I think The Terrorizers is a film that should be quietly forgotten about. It would be a pity if this were to be used as an introduction to Yang’s work.

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