Director: Singing Chen
Screenplay: Singing Chen & Yi-an Lou
Producers: Li Cho & Ju Fen Yeh
Starring: Tarcy Su, Jack Kao, Han Chang, Jonathan Chang
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 119 min
God Man Dog is a Taiwanese film that hit the festival circuit a couple of years back and had a little success picking up a minor award from the Berlin Film Festival, then drifted off into obscurity. After viewing this in a screener trade-off with a critic friend of mine I think it deserves a bit more acknowledgment.
The film is a multi-story drama in the vein of Short Cuts, Magnolia, Amores Perros etc. Casting a wide net over modern Taiwanese society, it focuses on a middle-class couple coming to terms with post natal depression and the eventual death of their child, an aboriginal family with an alcoholic father and kick-boxing daughter, a homeless boy with an insatiable appetite and a one legged man who travels across Taiwan in a truck full of Buddhas.
Religion plays a big part in all of the stories (Taiwan is a mixed faith country), with many of the characters falling on it as an easy fix to their problems but generally failing. Although religion seems to bring the stories to a close by the end of the film, often positively, it does so in a fairly superficial way (most obviously symbolised in the neon-lit Buddha truck), causing the characters to deal with their problems themselves, only spurned on by a chance encounter with some sort of religious symbol or supposed ‘act of God’. Not being religious myself (although I was brought up as a Christian) and knowing very little about Buddhism or Taoism, I think some of the content was lost on me and could be read differently, but I got the impression that the film was making a bit of a dig at the superficiality of organised religion, instead highlighting the importance of faith combined with self-belief.
As with a lot of these multi-stranded character studies, luck, chance and coincidence play a big part too with a couple of the characters making a living through entering competitions, as well as using a car crash as a device to bring all of the narratives together. This is getting ridiculously overused in these types of films now (even action thriller Beast Stalker does the same which I reviewed not so long ago), but it still works here and the accident itself doesn’t have the same obvious weight as in say Amores Perros or Crash.
God Man Dog is an interesting film tonally, spending most of it’s first two-thirds as quite a heavy going and bleak experience, but then shifting towards the end, bringing in elements of comedy and tying up most of the narratives in a fairly uplifting manner. It’s a shift that threatens to be schmaltzy, but the writers and director show great restraint throughout (other than an overuse of religious imagery), resulting in a satisfyingly warm finale. It is quite a slow film and I was clock watching a bit in the first half, but it felt rewarding by the end.
On a technical level it’s very well made, with some beautifully framed imagery, strong performances and a nicely quirky soundtrack. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it does sag at times, but overall God Man Dog is a subtly engrossing film with an interesting view of religion in modern society.
RowThree's UK correspondent.