Sunday, 27 May 2012

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Din Tao: Leader of the Parade [Review]


Opinion: B-

Another brilliant attempt at exporting a slice of Taiwanese culture into the arena of cinema, this time dwelling upon the subject matter of Din Tao - a cultural (and religious) troupe performance. The film material could have been further elaborated into an enriching experience for the unfamiliar audience, it instead indulges excessively in the process and prolongs the feel of the film's pacing. At the end of the day, it feels more like a teenage sensational hit that allows its characters to banter abussively instead of embarking on their obligated journey of enlightenment in Din Tao.


Ah-Tai (Alan Kuo) was born and raised in one of Taichung’s most notable Din-Tao troupes. His father (Chen Bo Zheng) had deemed him a good-for-nothing since his childhood days. Ah-Tai’s rebellious streak had strained their father-son relationship as such. With a stroke of chance, Ah-Tai is unintentionally appointed the leader of the troupe. This resulted in suspicions and distrust arising from both troupe members and the rival troupe led by Ah-Xian (Alien Huang). Ah-Tai decides to prove his worth by embarking on a performance journey across Taiwan with his young troupe members. This coming-of-age tale hopes to ignite the waning interests of Din Tao traditions through one man’s vision and the value of family bonds.


One of the admirations that I hold for Taiwan cinema is its constant ability to rejuvenate itself by acknowledging its own traditions and cultural heritage and look within for inspirational material to translate onto the silver screen. Just by the native dialect and language used, one can feel the way of life through the typical Taiwanese daily conversations. Therefore, it is disheartening to have viewed this film in Mandarin dubbing, which has severely crippled its cultural context and consequential benefits in my opinion.

Not only is it jarring, it coated the film with a faux vibe.

Opening with a flashback scene, the film immediately desaturates its colour palette to instill the sense of chronological story-telling. While brief, it allows a good amount of background context to be acquainted with the characters. With good sound (Tu Du-Chih), lensing and production design (the costumes and temple ritual settings), Director Feng Kai's film features good overall production values. That said, the film itself does behold certain flaws that hindered it from becoming a greater production.

As the film shifts into the subject matter proper, it merely allows it to be an excuse for the characters to interact onscreen. We get to know the characters, who are memorably lovely by the way, well enough to take home impressions of them after the end of the film. But I didn't get to understand the art of Din Tao any better. While implying that there is a lack of research on the subject, it may well be the intention of the film to focus on its characters. It appears that instead of sensationalising the film material, the film material was used to sensationalise the characters.

If that is the case, then fortunately a good number of the characters stick well to my memory with credibly hilarious performance (since comedy took up quite a fair bit of the film). Alien Huang particularly fared well with his arrogance and menace as well as Chen Bor Jeng as the stuck-in-the-mud father of Ah-Tai. It is also blatantly noted that almost all of Chen's original dialogue is dubbed in Mandarin, thus resulting in the lost of its original cultural flavour.

Besides not dwelling sufficiently in depth in the art of Din Tao, the screenplay allows for some interesting and hilarious scenarios involving multiple characters for a good cast ensemble. The two hours running time feels like it could use about 15 minutes less in my opinion. Fans of any of the Taiwanese idols in this film and those seeking a good laugh to improve your day may find this a relatively good choice if understanding Din Tao isn't an agenda high on interest.


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