By Lai Kun-yu
“Thanatos, Drunk” is the best work that the director Chang Tso-chi ever made, because it deals with extremely complex emotions through a delicate plot. The beautiful story of this film feels just like a knife that slowly stabs into audience’s heart and reveal everyone’s deepest feelings.
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The story is about Rat and his elder brother Shanghe, who live on the edge of Taipei City, trying to live their lives and handle their own personal relationship. Rat worships his cousin’s boyfriend Shuo, because he is a fancy guy with great personality. So, Shuo naturally steps deeper in the lives of the two brothers’ But at the same time, Rat and Shanghe’s mother, who has already passed away, still haunts their minds, never fading away. When each of the protagonists’ deepest secrets are revealed, they realize they have to face the past that they’re afraid of. Slowly, their relationships become closer and closer, which leads them to the inevitable tragic consequence.
To review this film, we need to see the Chinese title first. The title “醉生夢死” means “ muddleheaded” in Chinese, but what the director wants to say is its literal meaning, which is “ Drunk, Living, Dream and Thanatos.” It represents the status of the four main characters.
“Drunk” is Rat and Shanghe’s mother who has been dead for years. When she appears on the screen, she always drinks wine in order to get away her own tragic fate. Her husband left her alone, and the son she cherishes the most escapes from her. The only things left are bottles of wine and a son that she never appreciates. Her life is stuck in a circle that she cannot get out, so she drinks and nags all the time. Endless sadness is deeply rooted in this film, through her drinking behavior and word.
Rat, symbolized as “Thanatos” is much affected by his mother, having complex feelings about his family. He falls in love with a prostitute who cannot speak, and is willing to do anything for her. Living in the bottom of this society, he does not care about anything except for her. He often talks to ants and fishes, which is a way to visualize his thoughts about his existence: worthless. Since he is nothing, he isn’t afraid of dying.
As for his elder brother Shanghe, he is the opposite of “Rat”. His word is “Dream.” He owns a good job and excellent educational background. He looks like living in a dream that everybody desires. However, his dream life is still empty and lonely, since he can’t find a man that knows his soul very well.
Shuo, on the other hand, is a symbol of living. In order to survive, he learns how to know women’s hearts. Furthermore, he deceives every female character he encounters, including his girlfriend. That makes him have a wonderful life that Rat wants, but also brings conflicts inside his heart.
As the storyline stretches, the four characters connect to each other The mother is like a shadow that neither brother can’t get away from. To Rat, his mother’s despising is the reason behind his low self esteem. When his lover has troubles, he uses violence to solve the problems, because he is the only thing that he owns.
Shanghe feels guilty about his mother’s death, which does not let him deal with his little brother very well. But at the same time, he is also attracted by Shuo’s unique persona. Shuo, who always lies to women, feels comfortable when Shanghe is around him. They slowly fall in love with each other.
But along with love comes suffering. The flaws of their personalities force them to face the knots in their hearts, which turn into crises that they ultimately need to conquer. The way of dealing with the conflicts between the characters and themselves are so delicate, and the reason that the ending is so poetic and brutal.
Director Chang Tso-chi is the main reason that there is so much emotion in the film. He’s known for expressing deep emotion and desire in his movies and this film makes him push his limits for a number of reasons. He wants to use this movie as a monologue to his mother, whom he always had a dilemma about facing her. What’s more, he was also accused of sexual assault during the shooting. The stress from the outside and the struggles inside his heart, made him pour more thought and imagination to this work. In the end, his work turns out an elegant masterpiece with a stylish story.
Even though its story line is very clear, the film is not very narrative. What makes it so outstanding is its emotion. Every scene is filled with multiple layers of sentiments in each role, and manages to trap the audience’s hearts with ease. The director spends a lot of effort to discuss about different kinds of loving relationships. However, what’s behind these relationships is endless sadness and pain.
Chang Tso-chi uses a handheld camera to magnify these emotions. The handheld style matches the film’s tone, making the emotion easily visible. Furthermore, the score and lights perfectly reveal the hidden feelings in these roles, allowing the audience to explore again and again.
The actors are also a key element of this film. In order to get closer to the characters’ personalities, the director asked these actors to live in a similar environments of their roles, so they act pretty natural in the film. With realistic acting and several surreal scenes of emotions, the content of this film becomes overwhelmingly beautiful.
“Thanatos, Drunk” is the best work of Chang Tso-chi. Every detail of this film is so amazing that people can get different feedbacks while watching it again and again.