Stylish direction only does so much to save a convoluted, dull story.
“Who wouldn’t like such an alluring game?”
Internally, I really wished this film would be about three people who each encapsulated one of those personality types, not unlike The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or even Kim Jee-Woon’s wonderful Korea-set homage. It might be, but I’d have a hard time placing Chen (Vicky Chen), 15-year-old daughter politically-important antique dealer Madame Tang (Kara Hui) in either of those roles. Chen is being raised by her mother to be a socialite, and to entertain, much to the disapproval of her sister Ning (Wu Ke-xi), who has suffered due to it.
The family entertain and deal with many high-ranking government types, with each member doing their part – Chen serves as a handmaiden, Ning as the charmer and Madame Tang as the calculated, cruel mistress of it all. Things in their lives take a sharp turn for the worst when a land deal organised by Madame Tang goes south, and the entire family of a close friend is murdered, and in a world of scandals and corruption, anything can happen.
This wasn’t an easy film to summarise, because frankly I had no idea what was happening as it was happening. Or rather, I had no idea why any of this was happening, or how it fit into the larger story.. Maybe it’s just me, who knows, but The Bold – as I’ll abbreviate it – simply felt like it was trying too hard to be cool, leaving it less time to be actually coherent. There’s definitely the semblance of something going on, as even if you don’t quite fit the pieces together you can feel the escalation, and for that it’s pretty well made, but there’s only so much slightly vague dialogue about land purchases one can listen to before switching off.
The plot is definitely there, and it certainly seems interesting but The Bold is a film that seems to have a quota of characters we can’t connect to. Every time it looks like we might get attached to somebody, the scene shifts somewhere or we’re introduced to a handful of new, equally robotic characters. No one in this film really feels human, but rather like advanced AI that have studied human behaviour and think they have it down just right. It’s damn near impossible to give a damn about anyone, so the audience is left wondering why they should at all in the first place.
So what are the movie’s good attributes? It’s stylish as all hell, with gorgeous lighting, sets and costumes all around, making this is a very beautiful movie to watch. Throw in some expertly-shot cinematography and The Bold becomes a film that oozes the visual sophistication it wishes it had in its storytelling. Director Yang Ya-che knows what looks good, and how to make the audience feel as important, wealthy and shady as the main characters. But great visuals don’t make a great film by themselves. It’s a shame because there’s a good story there: the sort that would make some excellent prestige TV. It’s easily comparable to House of Cards in the way it portrays what people will do for political and social power, but where it differs massively is that The Bold feels less visually cold, and emphasises the threat to the characters early on through some top-notch filmmaking and acting.
Kudos to Wu Ke-xi as Ning, whose turmoil is heartbreakingly well-rendered, and she along with the rest of the cast are a good portion of the reason why this film is still very watchable. You know when weird shit doesn’t keep happening like the occasional clips of two lute players, who appear like spirits to keep the audience entertained. There’s no obvious reasoning for their appearances in The Bold, but they’re frequent enough that at least you’re kept entertained. It’s almost like director Yang knew that his film didn’t make a tonne of sense, or else why did he create two characters who are there to remind us how to feel, and what’s been happening?
As it stands The Bold is a weird little experience that won’t make for the most satisfying of viewing experiences, but keeps itself interesting and sleazy enough to draw an audience’s attention and keep them. There are definitely better movies with similar themes, and it’s hard to tell what The Bold does that’s better than others. It’s just sort of OK that might be better on second viewing, when you know what to look for and what attention to be paying. At the end of the day, though, murder and sex can only really keep your attention for so long. Maybe they could have thrown some more in there.
Verdict: Unnecessarily complicated storytelling clashes with a sleek, simple visual style in a film that’s a mess, but an entertaining one.
Overall entertainment: 5.5/10
Violence: Needed way more/10
Runaway horses: One, but they show it like a thousand times
Broken Buddha: Clearly signifies nothing but bad luck
The Bold, The Corrupt and the Beautiful (2018)
Also known as: 血觀音, Guanyin in blood
Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Japanese
Director: Yang Ya-che
Writer: Yang Ya-che
Kara Hui – Madame Tang
Wu Ke-xi – Tang Ning
Vicky Chen – Tang Chen
Sally Chen – Director
Wen Chen-ling – Lin Pien-pien
Ko Chia-yen – Tang Chen
Moon Wang – Wife of county magistrate
Carolyn Chen – Assistant of city councillor
Mariko Okubo – Legislator Lin’s wife
Jun Fu – Police officer Liao
Ting Chiang – Secretary-general
Yin Chao-te – Legislator Lin
Showlen Maya – Singer
Ying Wei-min – Gu Xianzong
Shih Ming-shuai – Duan Yi
Kenny Yan – Jiayuan
Lee Chuan – Tang Chen’s assistant