26 March 2009

PARKING (Dir. Chung Mong-Hong, 2008, Taiwan) - The New Wave?

Premiering at Cannes in 2008, this directorial debut from Chung Mong-Hong is one of the clearest illustrations of the possibilities of a new wave that could emerge from Taiwan in the next ten years. It might be safe to say that Taiwanese cinema is nearing a point where we will begin to see a new series of young film makers trying to get to grips with contemporary society but in a way that has some broad mainstream appeal for audiences. Asian cinema particularly South Korea continues to demonstrate incredible technical accomplishments and a sincere commitment towards maintaining a viable indigenous home grown cinema in which the domestic box office is not simply dominated by a deluge of Hollywood films. Taiwan has consistently produced respected and influential film makers over the last thirty years and the critical success of a film like ‘Parking’ seems to point to a stylised and technically adept cinema currently associated with other South Asian film makers like Park Chan Wook and Bong Joon-ho.

Parking is not groundbreaking or a masterpiece by any means, occupying a middle ground with a narrative that centres around a youthful, middle class Taiwanese couple who one could even label as espousing yuppish attitudes. Many critics have drawn comparisons with Martin Scorsese’s much under rated ‘After Hours’ and it is pretty obvious to see why. Unlike Scorsese’s Kafkaesque labyrinth in which the doomed protagonist of Paul Hackett is pursued by the forces of chance, ‘Parking’ seeks to use the idea of nightmarish entrapment to offer a gentler comment on contemporary relationships. The main character of Chen Mo is played effortlessly by one of Asian cinema’s rising stars, Chang Chen, who has the potential to become the next Tony Leung. Asia’s answer to Johnny Depp, Chang Chen has already worked with perhaps two of Taiwan’s most recognisable film makers; Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Three Times).

Chen Mo’s impulsive decision to stop to buy cakes for his girlfriend ends with his car being blocked by a series of erratic drivers. Effectively trapped for the night, Chen Mo encounters an assortment of oddball and eccentric characters including a prostitute and her pimp and a tailor indebted to the local gangsters. Cutting back and forth between a multitude of characters and their relative narratives, many of which trigger flashbacks, is perhaps where the film begins to get confusing and a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, the flashbacks illustrating the stories of both the prostitute and the tailor points to displacement and migration, two themes which are not really fully explored but linger in the background. The naive Chinese girl who makes the journey from mainland China to the Utopian promises of Taipei ends with her shift into prostitution and seems to point to a wider social concern regarding forced economic migration. Mong-Hong Chung’s camerawork at times replicates the cinematographic aspects of Christopher Doyle especially in the sequence when the pimp chases the prostitute into the markets of Taipei.

In terms of the links with American cinema, the noir conventions are most evident in the moody lighting, themes of fate and chance and the film’s fascination with documenting the deserted midnight streets of Taipei, which incidentally look gorgeous under the impressive camerawork of Mong-Hong Chung who also takes a credit as cinematographer. Though ‘Parking’ is noirish in its conception, the denouement is rather uplifting in how it opts to reject the cynicism of the urban city and choosing instead to offer closure for Chen Mo’s biological predicament. I struggled to find a worthwhile critical opinion on the film but a website dedicated to Asian cinema offered one of the best readings of the film:

The characters all hail from different Chinese areas - Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan - and each is stuck in a stifling circumstance, trapped by their lives or choices, with the their inertia bleeding into their everyday lives. It's almost like they're all parked in, just like Chen Mo! Perhaps that interpretation is a bit pretentious, but it's one way that viewers can read Chung Mong-Hong's work.

If such a reading is valid then maybe Chung Mong-Hong’s directorial debut hints at the possibilities of exploring the diaspora experience in Taiwan through the perspective of American genres and postmodern sensibilities.


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