A Confucian ConfusionA Confucian Confusion
As with most Yang films, A Confucian Confusion, although described as Comedy, defies standard genre conventions. There are some really funny laugh-out-loud moments (which I suspect were even more effective on the big screen) but the film also has a lot of sharp social commentary about the clash between tradition and a modern materialist society, the nature of art versus business and the vagaries of human relationships. What is even more amazing is how Yang manages to do all of this while still making them all part of a coherent whole that is amazingly well-constructed and detailed. In contrast to The Terrorizer, which starts off mostly silently as a bunch of what seem like somewhat disjointed images, A Confucian Confusion puts us right in the middle of the action at the very start. We are introduced to a ensemble of characters and we are very quickly pulled into the world they live in and their various entanglements, both personal and professional. One of my favorite parts about this film is how the various facets of the central theme (the relevance of traditional Chinese values in a modern society) are illuminated by various cast members throughout the film while being completely relevant to the situation they are in. While all this sounds like it could be heavy-handed and pedantic, the film never comes across as either of those. The film has several layers of humor and comedy and also manages to be really personal. The characters all seem to be grappling with the problem of feeling misunderstood by everyone else and seem to be really lonely despite the hectic nature of their lives and in the end, everyone seems to find some sort of resolution and a renewed sense of hope. I also love how the careful choreography of events in the film leads in the end to a brilliant realignment of points of view and romantic pairings. Mahjong
Hmm, so this matchup pretty much ended up being the two Yang comedies pitted against one another. It's a pity I only get to choose one because I genuinely wish these films would get seen by more people as they deserve to be. All I can say is that I hope pix has some ideas on how to have resurrections for this bracket.
While Confucian Confusion focuses mostly on upperclass Taipei yuppies, Mahjong switches around and looks at the darker underbelly of taipei by choosing gangsters and other shady types to focus upon. When I said that A Confucian Confusion defies genre conventions, Mahong switches genres, characters, languages and moods at various points during the film. I don't want to belabor the point but once again Yang demonstrates his mastery at being able to maneuvere a dense plot and a slew of characters. I absolutely loved the start of this film where we are very quickly introduced to all of the characters and see a bunch of plot threads being set in motion within the first 10 minutes or so. At this point we have no idea as to how these characters and threads are going to come together and part of my enjoyment of this film came from seeing this master director set up little clues throughout the film on how this will come to be. One common idea that I felt I saw in almost all of the Yang films is this idea of alternate outcomes. So Yang frequently sets up a series of events and brings us to a point where characters make a choice and the choice determines the resolution of the film. However, rather than choose what one would consider the most likely outcome, Yang seems to want to investigate a relatively less likely but potentially darker outcome. Initially, while watching this film (and maybe others as well), I was a little uncomfortable with this. I felt like certain choices weren't consistent with the character development. After seeing this pattern in multiple films, however, I think this is a deliberate choice on the part of Yang. He seems to want to investigate just what a character is capable of when pushed to the limit and it's almost like the movie is presenting us with one possible chain of events while still suggesting that a slightly different choice could've set off a completely different chain. Similarly, at a more micro level, he sets up a rather risque (and disturbing) scene sometime in the beginning of the film where a character is made to go through a rather demeaning experience. He then sets up another scene much later in the film where a completely different character is made to go through almost the exact same experience but somehow on this occassion it is funny and at least relatively less disturbing. So once again, one minor change in who is at the center of these events changes the very nature of the entire experience.
My one quibble with this film is the performance by one of the actors who plays a Westerner in Taipei. The actor is terrible and hams his way through the film. The rest of the cast is mostly all good or at least decent. However, this one bad performance really sticks out in the movie and makes it seem not as good as I think it actually is.
I found it extremely hard to choose between these two films. Both of them are similar in that they have both a lighthearted vein and a dark side and put you in hermetic, sealed worlds that you get completely pulled into. However, although I loved Confucian Confusion, I think Mahjong is a riskier, more ambitious and ultimately more satisfying film. So with a heavy heart, I have to leave A Confucian Confusion
behind for the time being and move Mahjong
on to the next round.