Mara Jade
by Mara Jade

Taiwanese movies are typically deeply rooted in the country’s rich history and culture. In recent years especially, its movies are noted for their compelling stories with a strong Taiwanese identity. They are a testament that you don’t need all the bells and whistles of Hollywood blockbusters to deliver great entertainment. All you need are great actors who aren’t afraid to get down and dirty, a solid story premise that has depth and an astute director with a good eye for details.

And if we have to single out one Taiwanese movie that embodies all these qualities, it’s The Great Buddha+, a dark comedy written and directed by Hsin-yao Huang. It was selected in the Asian Feature Film Competition at last year’s Singapore International Film Festival, and was of the forerunners for the Audience Choice Award.

The movie follows a pair of friends, night-time security guard Pickle (Cres Chuang) and his odd job labourer pal Belly Button (Chu-Sheng Chen), and their late-night entertainment of watching the dash cam footage of Pickles’ boss, Kevin (Leon Dai), the owner of a factory that manufactures Buddha statues. Things get interesting as the pair saw some things that they weren’t supposed to see.

Channelling part Jim Jarmusch and part Kevin Smith the movie uses very little to speak volumes. Here’s why this movie is a must-watch.

A Style of its Own

Shot mostly in black and white with pockets of colour in between, The Great Buddha+ is stylistically unique. Director Huang aims to illustrate the gap between the rich and poor through the usage of colours. When the story is on Pickles and Belly Button, showing the audiences glimpses into their lives, the movie is in dreary shades of grey. It really draws the audience to the destitution of their lives; how Pickles live with his ailing mother in a home that leaks. And how Belly Button barely has a home, living in a tattered shed filled with items that he recycles.

However, when the pair sits in front of the computer, checking out the footage from Kevin’s car, the screen switches into technicolour, made even more colourful with Kevin’s seedy activities, most of which take place in his car. This clever manipulation of colour, acting as a cultural divide between the rich and poor, plays out artistically.

Subtle Humour

The beauty of The Great Buddha+ is how it artfully blends sarcasm with humour, especially during one scene with Kevin, a congressman and a Buddhist sect engaging in a war-of-the-words that hints at shady dealings and the corrupt culture of politicians.

Beyond that, the movie slowly simmers with humour, from that porno mag with some strange sticky stains to the final scene, where you might let out a huge gasp followed by a laugh when you realise what had just happened, the director maintains a good pace throughout to build up to that moment.

Above all these subtle hints of humour, the one that stands out the most is the movie title. The + behind The Great Buddha is no accident. This is director Huang’s first full-length movie. He had previously shot a short film called The Great Buddha, which was nominated for an award at the 2014 Golden Horse Awards. Huang decided to add the + in his full-length movie as a reference to the Apple smartphone iPhone 6 Plus, released at the same time when he was shooting his debut movie. It’s his dig at corporate naming trends.

A Film of Layers

On the surface, The Great Buddha+ is a very simple story of two oppressed guys living vicariously, or in this case, voyeuristically, through Kevin’s rich but shady life. But if you look closely, the movie touches on many issues, of how the downtrodden are largely ignored, the corruption culture that is turned a blind eye to, and the existence of a huge cultural and wealth divide. Although the movie’s storyline is referencing Taiwanese culture, these issues are applicable to many societies.

Multiple-Award Winning

You’d need more than a pair of hands to count the number of awards this film has gotten. In All, The Great Buddha+ won five awards at the 54th Golden Horse Awards, including Best New Director, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction, with 10 nominations in total. It also took home five Taipei Film Awards, sweeping the categories that it was nominated for, including the Grand Prize Award. It also won the NETPAC Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and Best Film from Mainland and Taiwan at the 37th Hong Kong Film Awards.

If these aren’t reasons enough to show that this show is worth watching, we don’t know what is!

The Great Buddha+