Godspeed (2016)

This film was nominated for a bunch of categories at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards but didn’t really win much. It certainly wouldn’t have caught my attention. Our cinephile friend however sent it along as a recommendation and the first thing that caught my attention was that it has Michael Hui, the legendary Hong Kong comedian in it. Having not watched anything with him in it for years, this certainly makes the film a lot more interesting.

After answering a job advertisement, Nadow works as a courier for Ta Bao, a gangster who sources drugs from Thailand. His instructions are to deliver a package from Taipei to a secluded place in the south of Taiwan. He elects to make the journey by taxi and finally relents after Old Hui persistently persuades him to hire his taxi. It is a long drive and Hui tries to make friendly conversation. His accent places him as being of Hong Kong origin though he has lived in Taiwan for more than 20 years, barely making ends meet as a taxi driver. When they arrive, the delivery initially goes well but his boss’ contact is killed by one his underlings. Nadow and Old Hui are spared because the gangsters wish to avoid police attention. Nadow however is hurt and his boss telephones to instruct him to avoid hospitals and to make their own way back to Taipei. As the seemingly interminable taxi ride drags on and on and Hui is forced to spend his dwindling cash, the two bond over their troubles.

Godspeed has a stilted, confusing beginning and it seems like director Chung Mong-hong tries for a bit of misdirection over who the protagonists of the film actually are. I’m still not sure what is the point of the opening scenes showing Nadow’s boss Ta Bao having difficulties with his drug suppliers in Thailand beyond setting the tone. The film really only gets its groove when Nadow and Old Hui start on their journey. Still even these side characters have some personality to them and Ta Bao makes for an interesting gang boss. Bespectacled, mild-mannered and professional, he is nevertheless ruthless when he needs to be. The most important bits are the interactions between Nadow and Old Hui. The director makes the most of Michael Hui’s appearance here and he almost carries the show all by himself as an old man who is somewhat befuddled by where life has taken him and has nothing to call his own except for his old taxi.

Deliberate or not, this film seems to channel the Coen brothers to some extent. At one point, Nadow and Old Hui decide to make a stop to get some food. Instead they stumble into a funeral of a local Triad boss and are strong-armed into coughing up condolence money after spinning a tale of being old friends. There’s even a strange moment in which Nadow dreams that the taxi is about to drive off the edge of the elevated highway. I also loved the scene in which Nadow breaks down and cries after being scolded by Old Hui, not because he is involved in criminal activities but because Hui accuses him of using an unrelated man’s photograph to say that it is the father who abandoned him as a baby. It’s just such a delicious combination of emotional weakness, humor and absurdity.

Despite a bit of an awkward start, I found this to be a better and more interesting film than I expected. Michael Hui is by far the best thing about this film and I have to say that the director employs his instant recognizability and the audience’s instinctive sympathy for hum very well indeed.

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