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“Rebels of the Neon God” (1992 Film, Taiwan) Tsai Ming-liang

Updated: Apr 1, 2021


“Rebels of the Neon God” is a 1992 Taiwanese action crime thriller film written and directed by Tsai Ming-liang. This film was also the first film Tsai Ming-liang produced, and this was also released five years after Martial Law ended in Taiwan which led for the nation to be in a pattern where people were struggling to find work and to and to survive like the characters portrayed. Additionally, Taiwan had always had a history of people dropping out of school in order to help out their families, which was a common theme for many Taiwanese films during this era.


In Urban Taiwan, jobs opportunities were scarce due to the transition of power between Japan and China. Part of these changes were caused by the transition of 1987 and the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989, which lead to damage in China and Taiwan’s culture and society. Taiwan’s goal throughout these harsh times were to stay an independent nation and to formulate a democracy for the people to be more fit to survive and to be comfortable living in the country. During this time period, many high school aged students dropped out of school, like Hsiao Kang in favor of receiving a job to help out their families, but in this case, Hsiao Kang dropped out for only the sake of it.


A family of three have been having issues with their son, Hsiao Kang behavior and he is starting to exclude himself in his family’s everyday life. He stayed in his room all day doing nothing but killing insects and punching walls. One day, Hsiao Kang went with his dad in his taxicab to his school and he then asked for a refund so he can drop out and do whatever he wants to do. On his way back, two motorcyclists took his mirror off and just drove away. On the other hand, the motorcyclists were criminals that steals change from payphones and gaming machines at local arcades. Upon the car accident, Hsiao Kang keeps on following the two motorcyclists, Ah Tzu and Ah Ping and occasionally they brought Ah Tzu’s girlfriend, Ah Kuei along while Hsiao Kang keeps looking at them. One night, Ah Ping and Ah Tze were at the arcade playing games, and they decided to hide upstairs until the place closed completely so they can steal stuff. While they were stealing stuff, Hsiao Kang was also hiding in the arcade and he vandalized Ah Tze’s scooter. From there, Hsiao Kang tried to go home and then his parents threw him out and was forced to live on his own.


The main objective of this movie was to illustrate how lost misguided young people were struggling. The plot of the story was unique because there was not really a central conflict, a goal or any major plot point. This movie overall was basically like an illustration of daily lives of what Ah Kuei, Ah Tze, Ah Ping like to do while Hsiao Kang follows them around for no clear apparent reason. The action that occurred in this movie was significant because the conflict was never stated nor resolved. Instead, there were several sub conflicts that may confuse viewers of how to follow the progression of the characters. As a conclusion, this movie would have been better if there was a central conflict or two and a resolution which lacked in Tsai Ming-liang’s first film.

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Michael Atkinson
Michael Atkinson
14. März 2021

I suppose more dramatic conflict might seem necessary to our eyes, but as a certain type of Asian film (the details of which you've nailed), it is in fact all about slice of ordinary life, seen through Tsai's very particular style -- he loves long shots and opaque action, and is the more extreme of the "slow cinema" tribe. This film, his first, isn't quite as slow, but it still sticks close to an observational style.

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