Movie Review: The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead (江湖無難事)

While many of us here in Hong Kong like to bash our government leaders for their general incompetence, it seems they got it right with their quick response to the coronavirus pandemic, though it should be noted that some of their early choices were clearly politically motivated. Sure, we’re still practicing social distancing but at least we don’t have the draconian measures that we’re now seeing being put in place in many cities around the world. Toilet paper has returned to our supermarket shelves, face masks are available again at pharmacies, and people are starting to venture out again… with their masks on!

Our cinemas are still open too, though the schedule of films that are slated to come here seems to change on a daily basis. Last week I mentioned that Hollywood had pushed off the release of NO TIME NO DIE and PETER RABBIT 2. The next day it was announced that the release of F9 would be delayed for a full year. As things stand today, BLACK WIDOW is still scheduled to open here on April 30th (May 1st in the US) but who knows what will happen between now and then.

With the studios holding back so many films, distributors here are scrambling to find new titles to screen and they’re turning to indie films to fill the gap. That’s great news for film lovers here, as indie films don’t often make it to our cinemas. This week, though, it’s one controversial American film (which I’ll review on Thursday) and two regional films that are new to our screens. If you’re looking for some absurdist comedy to take your mind off of things, THE GANGS, THE OSCARS, AND THE WALKING DEAD, from Taiwan, may just be the ticket.

Producer BS (Roy Chiu/邱澤) and his long-time friend, director Wenxi (Huang Di-Yang/黃迪揚), have dreams of making it big in the movie industry. The pair has been working together for years but they’ve never been successful. Now, deep in debt, they work for the triads filming their weddings and funerals. It’s after one such film shoot, which goes terribly wrong, that mob boss Brother Long (Lung Shao-Hua/龍劭華) makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He’ll bankroll their next production – a school girl/zombie film – as long as they agree to two conditions: First, part of the film must be shot in Japan, and second, the film must star Long’s crazy girlfriend, Shanny (Eleven Yao Yi-Ti/姚以緹). Desperate to get out of debt and make their film, they agree to Brother Long’s conditions but things again go terribly wrong even before the cameras start rolling. The guys know, though, that if they don’t improvise on the fly, their film isn’t the only thing that will end up in the dump.

Director Kao Pin-Chuan/高炳權 (The Soul of Bread/愛的麵包魂) has said that the film, by writers Birdy Fong/馮勃棣 and Tsai Yi-Ho/蔡顗禾, was initially conceived as a one-page joke. That much is quite evident as the laughs in THE GANGS, THE OSCARS, AND THE WALKING DEAD are few and far between. To make up for the weak script, Kao tears a page from Quentin Tarantino’s handbook and makes generous use of expository flashbacks and absurd violence. Sometimes it works but mostly it doesn’t, mainly because there is no chemistry between the two leads that would cause the audience to care about their fate. Perhaps Kao recognised this weakness and he relied too heavily on Yau’s campy performance for cheap laughs. This film would have been a more effective dark comedy had it been played straight.

That being said, THE GANGS, THE OSCARS, AND THE WALKING DEAD is not horrible and the film even picked up two nominations at last year’s Golden Horse awards. Veteran actor Lung brings much needed class to the production even if his character, too, has to do things that stretch the bounds of believability. The story’s premise is good but perhaps it needed a more experienced director to make it a winner.

Depending on how desperate you are to go the cinema this week will determine whether you should go see this film.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, March 20th, 8:30 am HK time!

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