Young Dudes (Taiwan, 2012) [PiFan 2012]

 “We are all the heroes of our dreams”

That is not a piece of dialogue from DJ Ying-Jung Chen’s Young Dudes, though it could have easily slipped from the mouths of either of the male protagonists in the film. Instead, that is a lyric from a song that plays as the three main leads of Young Dudes are running, not so much to get away from something, but rather chasing after the intangible: time.

For Adam (Wang Po Chien), Guy (Abe Tsuyoshi), and their beautiful Ukrainian friend Adele (Larisa Bakurova), as the world slips further into entropic malaise, like all idealists, they take it upon themselves to correct the flaws they perceive to be self-evident in every man, woman, and child around the globe. Of course, their revolution is not based on physical power. No, as true-blue idealists they use the greatest democratizing tool since the invention of the printing press, the Internet, to win over new converts. Making candid video posts extolling their message of togetherness and family and posting it on YouTube and Facebook, this small multi-ethnic band of Merry Pranksters quickly gain a following. A group of followers who, when the end does come, seem to not cower in fear as the old order crumbles, but rather welcomes the opportunity of building something better.

Watching Chen’s film I couldn’t help but look towards several films from the past: Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (Bande a part, 1964) and the films of Wong Kar-Wai, specifically Chungking Express (Chung Hing sam lam, 1994) and Happy Together (Chun gwong cha sit, 1997).  Whether the director actively sought to emulate these films I don”t know, but nonetheless, Young Dudes with each of these films shares similar themes of romantic idealism, pop culture as a form of communication, memory, and time. In particular, like Godard’s Band of Outsiders, Chen”s film is built around a triangular relationship, the friendship between Adam, Guy, and Adele. And just as Godard’s characters found comfort in their shared obsession of pulp crime novels, cinema, and jazz, Chen’s modern day protagonists come together due in part to a shared pop culture collective consisting specifically of American pop music, film, and Judeo-Christian mythology, which all play a major role in defining the trio’s philosophic outlook. Where the two filmmakers split off in differing directions though is their viewpoint on youth culture. Whereas Godard saw the relationship between men and women, the generational gap, and the conflicts between the first world and the third world stemming from a struggle for money and power, Chen’s film has a far more romantic viewpoint and reduces rebellion to being an extension of play.

Adam, Guy, best online casino and Adele have built a utopian world which consists of mainly themselves and their online followers. Although they post videos and engage the public in flamboyant flash mob style demonstrations, which have them dressing up as Michael Jackson clones to catch the public”s attention in the street, we never really see anyone directly challenging or questioning their childish antics. Of course, the primary reason for this is their inability to defend their lofty ideas because they are far too utopian to ever really be feasible in the real world. Most people would probably even brand Adam, the “brains” behind the entire operation, as insane. And though Chen does hint at a brewing conflicting between Guy and Adam as they try to compete for the attention of Adele just as the male friendship in Godard’s Band of Outsiders crumbles with the introduction of Anna Karina’s character into the mix, it’s only sporadically touched upon in Chen’s film. This comprises Young Dudes main weakness: there is no real conflict in the story. It’s merely a film about the end of the world seen through the eyes of beautiful quirky people who have great fashion sense and a lot of time on their hands.  Basically, Chen’s film could be interpreted as Band of Outsiders for the Urban Outfitters clique.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the film has no value.   Ironically, what Young Dudes has in spades is beautiful images. Taking a page from the Wong Kar-Wai visual playbook, Chen has his DP, Patrick Chou, shoot the film in a variety of styles, incorporating slow motion, a panoply of color filters, stark use of light and shadow, and off-kilter camera angles, not to mention the art direction by Art Chen.  The way that the director illustrates the end of the world is also unique in that he does not depict it as a fiery chaotic event. Instead, Chen incorporates surrealistic dream imagery and shows us an Apocalypse which isn”t so much a destructive force but rather as a natural process of renewal, making the prospect of the end of days not such a tragic event, but rather a bittersweet conclusion. Aside from the visuals, Young Dudes also has quite a catchy soundtrack which has a mix of songs from various musical eras.  However, instead of just buying up the copyrights to songs, Chen has the Eurasian rock-pop duo Soler do their own unique rendition of each song featured in the film, giving the soundtrack a familiar yet fresh sound.

In conclusion, although the film’s simplistic viewpoint of how to resolve the world’s many problems may have many cinemagoers rolling their eyes, I found myself unabashedly in love with the blend of images and sounds. With the world”s continuing obsession with Doomsday prophecies only growing exponentially as the economy and environment rapidly turn against us, it felt good to see a more optimistic point of view.   Hopefully, Young Dudes isn’t the last we’ve heard from DJ Chen.