Thanks to John Woo and Jackie Chan, Hong Kong action films have made a dent in Western moviegoers' tastes, but some Western moviegoers think the real action is over in Taiwan, where directors like Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang have forged the so-called New Taiwanese Cinema. Not unlike the Italian neorealists, New Taiwanese Cinema directors have hit the streets, bringing us back reports on a country poised between wealth and poverty, the First World and the Third, West and East, the future and the past. Occupied by one foreign power or another for hundreds of years, Taiwan is now a Western-style democracy reeling from its own economic success. I won't pretend to understand what it's like to live there, but movies like Edward Yang's 1986 film The Terrorizers, which is screening Friday, Feb. 6, at 4070 Vilas Hall (7 and 9 p.m.), may at least offer us a clue.
Set in Taipei, a modern city built of glass, steel, concrete and little else, the movie opens with a shooting. We never really find out anything about the man lying in the middle of the street, but we do find out a few things about several other people, whose lives seem to swirl around the shooting, like atoms trying to form a molecule. There's a photographer who, like the photographer in Antonioni's Blowup, catches something incriminating on film. There's a blocked novelist and her blockhead husband. And there's the Eurasian woman who was also shot that day, limping away to avoid the police. I can't begin to describe the plot, with its alternate endings and alternate realities. Let's just say that the atoms, though linked by some strange electrical charge, finally spin out of control. With its desolate locations and dislocations, The Terrorizers suggests a country consisting only of spiritual exiles.