Huang Hsin-Yao / Taiwan / 2017 / 104 mins
As part of Edinburgh International Film Festival
This satirical look at social inequality in Taiwan centres around security guard Pickle (Cres Chuang), who spends his working time with his friend Belly Button (Bamboo Chen) looking at dashboard camera footage of his businessman boss Kevin (Leon Dai) having sex with various mistresses. However, their routine takes a darker turn when they witness Kevin murdering an old girlfriend who threatens to expose his business practises.
Director Huang’s wry, Godardesque voiceover provides a self-aware commentary on the film’s events and characters that is consistent with the overall tone, which humorously skewers the likes of corrupt politicians and businessmen, religion and Taiwanese history. Two scenes in particular stand out; one involves Kevin awkwardly fielding questions at a press conference concerning his company’s construction of a giant Buddha statue – the titular “Great Buddha” – and the other sees Belly Button and Pickle visiting a temple worshipping the founder of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-Shek. Both are fine examples of Huang adeptly satirising two of the above issues without spelling the jokes out to the audience, a welcome change to equivalent American takes on the Trump administration.
However, the film doesn’t shy away from depicting the hardships suffered by both Pickle and Belly Button, who represent Taiwan’s underclass, with equal time devoted to showing Pickle trying to look after his ailing mother and Belly Button’s life as a vagrant subject to police brutality – an issue that Huang draws attention to in a humorous yet politically-relevant manner. Even the conclusion of the plot thread involving Kevin shows the damaging nature of power and influence in obstructing police matters, an issue all the more relevant in the West following the recent MeToo allegations against influential politicians and celebrities. The only aspect that doesn’t quite work is the ending involving the Buddha statue, which appears to be aiming for magic realism as a way of social commentary, but ends up raising more questions than it answers.
Overall, The Great Buddha+ is a subtly funny and intelligent look at Taiwanese society which provides an insight into a country rarely acknowledged by the Western media.