Early glimpse of direc­tor’s ge­nius

Los Angeles Times - - MOVIES - — Robert Abele

Don’t let the oc­ca­sional cam­era move­ment fool you: The Tai­wanese “Rebels of the Neon God” is a Tsai Ming-liang film, the static-take-lov­ing au­teur’s de­but, re­ceiv­ing a U.S. the­atri­cal re­lease af­ter 23 years.

The film is a cool, sus­pi­cious dis­sec­tion of dis­af­fected youth ma­neu­ver­ing Taipei’s grim­ier, nois­ier cor­ners. It will strike fans of the direc­tor’s dis­ci­plined, enig­matic clas­sics “What Time Is It There?” and “Good­bye, Dragon Inn” as both ac­ces­si­ble out­lier and charged testing ground.

Tsai regular Lee Kang­sheng plays Hsiao-keng, a blank, dis­tracted col­lege stu­dent in­creas­ingly ob­sessed with the mo­tor­cy­cle-rid­ing thief Ah-Tze (Chen Chao- jung). As their par­al­lel lives in­ter­twine in a plot that mixes sur­veil­lance, vengeance, street crime and ca­sual sex, Tsai un­furls a now-sig­na­ture back­drop of cramped ur­ban blight: dingy living spa­ces, video ar­cades, wet weather and mo­tel rooms.

As a first film, it is in­cred­i­bly ac­com­plished, its in­flu­ences (French New Wave, Wong Kar-Wai) ap­par­ent but in­te­grated. Most telling, though, is that when Tsai uses a cam­era pan or track­ing shot, it feels hes­i­tant, oblig­a­tory. But when he locks it down to bask in the alien­ation, cut af­ter cut, you can see a direc­tor fall­ing in love with the po­et­ics of min­i­mal­ism. “Rebels of the Neon God.” No MPAA rat­ing. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 46 min­utes. Play­ing at the NuArt, West L.A.

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