Rebels of the Neon God Screen 21 articles

Rebels of the Neon God

1992

Rebels of the Neon God Poster
  • Spent a large portion of this film wondering if I'd have been excited about Tsai had I encountered this debut in '92--it's certainly no The River or The Hole, but surely Tsai's superlative eye has to count for something? And yet something about this didn't seem right, seemed somewhat drained of energy or surprise. Perhaps it's that his photographic compositions, his delicate and rigorous plays of light and shadow, seem to me toned down to better fit the ostensible naturalism of this film.

  • Tsai’s first feature, Rebels of a Neon God, is his most conventional. It is also, as it turns out, a sort of template for the following four films, marking out his thematic and narrative territory and introducing his vision.

  • Along with Claire Denis in France, Pedro Costa in Portugal, Carlos Reygadas in Mexico, Lucrecia Martel in Argentina, and Paul Thomas Anderson in the U.S., Tsai is one of the few living directors who still makes movies exclusively for the big screen. His scrupulous pacing, mise-en-scene and sound design require the amplitude of a theater to achieve full effect; TV viewing may also lead one to miss the small details that often tie together entire scenes.

  • It’s primarily of interest to longtime fans, or to those who think they might become fans and want to take this opportunity to start at the beginning. If nothing else, this is a rare case in which a director’s feature debut doubles as his greatest-hits album. To watch it is to simultaneously see where Tsai Ming-liang came from and precisely where he was headed.

  • No director since Fassbinder has such insight into the lives of lost young men in crumbling inner cities as Tsai Ming-Liang delivers in this devastating first feature. Brilliantly observed, with dialogue kept to a minimum, and as tender as a Lou Reed elegy.

  • Neither we nor they seem to know why they're here, where they're going, or any of the reasons for their plight. Where an American film might offer causes, the 1992 Rebels of the Neon God tries to raise their plight to a gentle, unanalyzable poetry.

  • Tsai Ming-liang presents a harrowing, austere, and poignant examination of urban decay, amorality, ennui, and alienation in Rebels of the Neon God. Introducing recurring elements that would come to define the essence of Tsai's droll, minimalist, and idiosyncratic cinema, Rebels of the Neon God is a complex and metaphoric film that examines familiar Tsai themes...

  • Rebels exemplifies Tsai’s distinctive approach to narrative, which deliberately exploits and subverts traditional notions of dramatic tension... Like Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt, his films turn viewers into self-conscious observers of strange, complex behavior—less stereotypically cinematic, more unpredictably human.

  • Rebels marks the premiere of Tsai's hang-up on the expressive dimensions of water with Ah-Tze's flooded kitchen, walls rippling with ethereal reflections. The metaphor linking a clogged drain to a stifled existence is fresh, clean, and direct. When a phone call and a glimpse of potential warmth suddenly recedes the creeping tide, I know of few more moving.

  • Water is already Tsai's tenacious motif, from the outpourings to Chen's losing standoff with an overflowing drain, but this is a harsher, bleaker, more earthbound portrait than the director's subsequent works -- shorn of Tsai's surreptitious drollness and regenerative lyricism, the film shifts Taiwan's wobbly identity from the pastorals of Hou Hsiao-hsien to glittering urban cages, where the ephemeral pleasures of a false neon god only paper the cultural cracks in a nation's soul.

  • Sparing with dialogue and camera movement, Tsai makes the action seem both mysterious and predestined; his use of recurring motifs, metaphors, and visual rhymes is about as close as contemporary filmmaking gets to the essence of poetry. This is a near-masterpiece, and one of the most assured and accomplished debuts of the 1990s.

  • The emotional high point comes with the extreme vandalism Hsiao-kang unleashes on Ah Tse's motorbike as he slashes its tires and seat and spraypaints the word “AIDS” on it. It's no act of hate but a bizarre attempt at closeness – a cry for love worthy of Sal Mineo's Plato in Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, which Tsai's film cites.

  • If Tsai has always been a tired filmmaker, his aesthetic has also always been one of resistance to the social forces under which his characters toil and to the conventions of both Hollywood and high-end, internationally palatable art cinema... Rebels resists the usual satisfactions of the “youth” movie—its rebels are not rebels at all, but young people ineluctably trapped, and their efforts to transcend their contexts are inevitably circular, their rebellion made ridiculous.

  • Tsai takes instruction from a film like Touki Bouki for its engagement with dominant, fashionable film styles, but for the purpose of renouncing it. If Djibril Diop Mambéty's film sought to castigate the French bourgeoisie for its insouciant demeanor in post-colonial relations with Senegal, Tsai's film quite similarly integrates key French and American points of cinematic reference on violence and masculinity to subtly assail them.

  • Rebels of the Neon God inaugurates the filmmaker's multi-movie study of urban alienation not with showoff chops but quiet, enduring compassion. Premiering here at last in a new HD restoration, and as part of a simultaneous Tsai retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image, it's a welcome reintroduction to a modern master's work.

  • In places, Rebels is as muted and slow-burning as you expect a Tsai film to be, but just as often, it’s vibrant, nervy, altogether rock ’n’ roll; one shot shows Hsiao-Kang contemplating a James Dean poster, and a terse John Carpenter-ish electronic bass line throbs throughout. The color is as vivid as the title promises: there’s a striking cut from the red lights of Ah-tze’s bike at night to the deep blue of a roller disco.

  • Hitting US shores in the wake of his lauded 2013 feature Stray Dogs, Tsai’s first film provides a striking glimpse back into the rambunctious, uncertain first steps of a filmmaker who would grow into one of the most demanding formalists in world cinema. Yet for all the stylistic flourishes that seem so unlike the mature Tsai, many more aspects show his innate grasp on a unique aesthetic approach to filmmaking and storytelling.

  • You never feel that Tsai is trying to shoehorn conventional devices into an unconventional project; it's more like he's practicing or experimenting with such focus and control that he always seems to be testing notions and propositions rather than just futzing around.

  • Tsai Ming-Liang’s first feature, from 1992—just released in the U.S.—is a luridly lyrical vision of adolescent rage and lust in Taipei... With longing gazes, antic and violent outbursts, and exquisite coincidences set amid his fetish objects—leaky pipes and bloody wounds, fast food and bathroom fixtures—Tsai depicts the city as a spontaneous, sticky, erotic ballet.

  • There is a great scene in Rebels of the Neon God when Hsiao-kang pauses in the arcade, where he has been following Ah Tze and Ah Bing, and stares at a poster of James Dean... The longing gaze that Hsiao-kang casts at James Dean suggests an echo of the ambivalent desire that Tsai’s European heroes once felt for America, and the liberation that it represented.

  • It's an exquisitely controlled movie. It's also a nakedly desperate work, in which anguish and isolation radiate from nearly every frame. I think it's best to start with this seeming contrast: intense emotion and rigorous calculation are commonly thought of as opposed to each other, and, outside of art, they usually are. . . . It's probably best to say—to speculate—that Tsai, in his theatrical feature debut, found an aesthetic to go with his feelings, and feelings to go with his aesthetic.

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