In Lou Yi-an’s bleak drama, even save spamming won’t get you a happy ending.
“How long have you been caged?”
“Maybe he’s used to it.”
On the evening of his 18th birthday, depressed high schooler Jan Wen (Joseph Huang) goes to the Taipei Night Market with an altered BB gun, and starts shooting people indiscriminately. From this event, many lives are shaped, and Goddamned Asura takes us through the intertwined lives of those affected by it. There’s Vita (Huang Pei-jia), an advertising executive for the MMORPG King’s World whose fiancé, urban development planner and popular King’s World streamer Sheng (Lai Hao-che), was the only casualty; Wen’s best friend and comic book collaborator Axing (Devin Pan), who believes that his friend
Goddamned Asura is a study of what happens when people feel caged, unable to move. Jan Wen’s actions are the centre point to everything else that happens, but everyone in Goddamned Asura feels trapped in some form of another, from a job that they can never get a break from to a financial hole that’s impossible to climb out of. But what makes the film a touch more than that is the way it handles its second other point of focus: what if you could reset everything? Turn back the clock like the legendary Brahma Sword can in King’s World?
That’s where Goddamned Asura takes an interesting – if wholly unnecessary – twist. It starts again, more or less, and shows us events that could have been. But far from being the upbeat “it takes one small change to make the world a better place” sort of story we’ve come to expect from this kind of format, instead the film shows us a different, arguably worse reality.
This ultimately makes the film hard to quite grasp what it’s trying to say about, well, everything. The way Jan Wen’s life changes massively because of a single encounter strikes me as a touch odd. Jan ends up looking worryingly close to an incel school shooter – those who believe that they’d have been fine if only a girl would have paid them attention. It wants to explain that people behind these kind of violent incidents are just human and that there are social and psychological factors to consider before branding them monsters (this film was inspired by a similar event in 2014, after all), but having the entire situation be diffused thanks to a quick conversation with a girl feels odd at best and icky at worst.
Eh, whatever. It’s a film that’s trying to tell two full stories in the course of under two hours, so we can let it take a few shortcuts. What it’s trying to say ultimately is still a bit unclear – that regardless of what happens, someone is bound to suffer? – but the story lures you in with haunting colours, a moody soundtrack and enough excellent performances that you don’t spend too much time thinking about the themes and complexities of the plot until well after the credits have stopped rolling.
And technically, the film is excellently made. Each cast member does a great job of holding up their side of the story, and when a plot has this many arms telling separate (if occasionally connected thanks to journalist Mold (Mo Tzu-yi)’s interviews about the incident) vignettes no one is really allowed to phone it in and take a back seat. Devan Pan nails his role as the devoted friend whose attachment switches from endearing to manic, and Wang Yu-xuan is perfectly cast as the movie’s heart, Lin, who has to take multiple jobs to support her alcoholic mother and is also catfishing Sheng on King’s World.
Due to its complex, time rewinding nature, the movie ends up feeling a lot longer than its 114-minute runtime suggests. Thankfully its moody atmosphere and twisty soap opera storytelling keeps you hooked for the majority of the runtime, and will no doubt leave you feeling conflicted and in deep thought once the credits roll in. It’s not the neatest, tightest two hours you’ll spend in a cinema, but it certainly beats watching the world’s least interesting building appraiser livestream King’s World again.
Verdict: Overlong in places but still gripping throughout, Goddamned Asura is a study on how our actions affect others, and how like 90% of people should be seeking psychological care of some sort.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Descents into unfathomable darkness: At least 2
Alternative histories: Honestly, the world is kind of better off without Sheng, huh
Violence in video games: Despite its prevalence, surprising lack of preachiness on the topic. Well done, movie!
Goddamned Asura (2021)
Director: Lou Yi-an
Writer: Lou Yi-an
Joseph Huang – Jan Wen
Devin Pan – Axing
Wang Yu-xuan – Zero Lin
Huang Pei-jia – Vita
Mo Tzu-yi – Mold
Lai Hao-che – Sheng