The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead (Taiwan, 2019) [NYAFF 2020]

Feature films are hard to make. Sometimes, true artists sacrifice their health and sanity to see their dreams come alive on the big screen, and sometimes, like in Pin-Chuan Kao’s The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead, they make catastrophic deals with the mob that are sure to blow up in their faces. Pin-Chuan Kao’s latest comedy is as gonzo as the title suggest, though perhaps not as original. A mishmash of familiar tropes, The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead fails to leave an impression beyond its interesting premise.

Since they were young boys, BS (Roy Chiu) and his brother, Wenxi (Di-Yang Huang), have wanted to be filmmakers. BS is the ever-resourceful producer, while Wenxi supplies the directing talent. Despite their hard work and ample talent (well, ample in their eyes anyway), they have failed to secure finances for their grand zombie movie, which according to Wenxi is guaranteed to win an Oscar. Through their shady connections, the duo meets a local crime boss, Brother Long (Shao-hua Lung), who offers to finance their film upon two conditions: that they film part of it in Japan, and that the boss’ girlfriend, Shanny (Yi Yi Tao), be cast in the lead role.

Despite Wenxi’s objections, the project goes ahead, but things get out of hand before the filming has even started. Shanny dies in a horrible accident at a party (an act that may or may not be Wenxi’s fault), leaving the fraternal filmmakers at the mercy the temperamental crime boss. The two brothers are way in over their heads, and must spend the rest of the film trying to hide Shanny’s death from Brother Long. What ensues is a borderline surreal comedy whose content and style quite literally spiral out of control. The first thing that stands out in The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead is its flamboyant and excessive style, which pretty much dominates every other aspect of the film. The vibrant and colourful set design is enhanced by the frantic camerawork which never seems to stop moving, strangely reminiscent of a 90s music video. It’s good looking, albeit dizzying at times, but feels empty in the face of the rather subpar plot and characters. The plot is essentially a string of increasingly implausible set pieces loosely glued together and capped by a predictable and almost throwaway “Oceans 11” inspired ending. The two main characters’ passion for film-making is somewhat redeeming, but that too is eventually reduced into a stereotype.

The humour – which could have been the film’s saving grace – also falls flat, mainly because the characters and their actions are, for the most part, too unbelievable to make them matter. For instance, the team’s effort to hide Shanny’s dead body in the first half of the film are so outrageously ridiculous that any sort of immersion into the story becomes impossible. Often the rules of comedy demand that everything that can go wrong, must go wrong. In Pin-Chuan Kao’s film, however, there are endless moments where things should go wrong, but don’t. The characters are way too lucky, and the plot moves through obstacles like a bowling ball down an unimpeded track. Good comedy comes from character, but good characters have a hard time standing out when all plausibility is thrown out the window.

Ultimately, The Gang, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead is a slick, good looking, and stylish film, but has no real substance to speak of. It’s comedy of errors where the errors don’t seem to have the impact that they should.

The Gang, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead is streaming as part of the New York Asian Film Festival which runs from August 28 to September 12.