This is a rare and perversely kind of cherishable film: one that attempts to slather its shortcomings in preposterously overreaching style. The setting is Taiwan in the bad old 1980s, when an eerily perfect family with their finger in every honey pot conspire to ram through a crooked land deal. Then murder intervenes. And family revelations. And a blind minstrel, to deliver said revelations in a Greek chorus-type approach to narration.
Fault director Yang Ya-che, perhaps, for turning a conceivably interesting puzzle of a story into a murky and incomprehensible wreck. Don’t fault him, though, for lack of ambition: The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful may be batshit crazy, but it does craziness elegantly. The overwhelming impression is that Yang cared not in the slightest for the twistiness of his script nor its nods at political context, and instead treated this as a chamber piece, a hothouse to push his stylistic impulses to the extreme. What this looks like in practice is the crispness of Jiang Wen circa Let the Bullets Fly, mixed with the over-the-top formal precision of Park Chan-wook, particularly in its would-be risqué ‘sexiness.’ There are even hints of Kim Ki-young, in the unabashedly florid treatment of its female-centred material. Yang has a fine visual sense as director: the meticulousness of the colour and set design are stunning, and the cinematography is hard to fault. The dialogue is a sophisticated melange of Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese and Japanese, suggesting a depth and complexity never delivered upon. Sporadically, these elements result in such a good scene that it adds to the disappointment that the film never coalesces, or begins to make sense.
As for the actors: the three superb female leads struggle against the thinness of their roles. Kara Hui, a Hong Kong action star in the ’80s, commands authority as the demented matriarch. Wu Ke-xi, fresh from her transnational indie film collaborations with Myanmar-Taiwanese director Midi Z, turns in a delirious performance that articulates her character’s neuroticism; and Vicky Chen’s star continues to rise.
This is ostensibly a family tragedy, but its post-modern remove leaves it with little meaningful to say about family. Character development is neglected across the board. In execution, it’s messy and misguided, but The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful at least delivers two hours of unfiltered opulence.
Jemma van Loenen’s documentary introduces audiences to Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir, a young boxer from Canberra, on her quest to win a World Boxing Championship.
Elmir is a determined fighter who will let nothing get in her way. A Lebanese Muslim, who has won multiple Australian and International Championships, Elmir faces many obstacles – getting her family’s approval, the views of her community, opponents in the ring, among others. Elmir at one point is barred from fighting, due to a drugs ban.
Despite her unorthodox nature, and the odds stacked against her, the boxer revels in victory.
Winning supersedes everything. This is what she does it for. To stand victorious.
Elmir’s an individual who thrives on smashing expectations: she takes part in a Muslim Mardi Gras Event; her coach tells her not to go out and drink, she goes out until 4am; she enters a match a significant underdog, and wins handily.
She has no issues reflecting on, and savouring the gory blood of her opponent, and subverting her family’s expectations.
She relishes the fear in her opponent’s eyes, that moment before they receive the knockout punch.
But despite all her victories and tenacity, at the end of the day, Elmir doesn’t quite know how to deal with herself when she’s not fighting. This is what the documentary is about – identity and the subject’s life away from sport. Her biggest fight is within herself.
Elmir’s coach talks about the qualities of the boxer, how she gives back to the community. Unfortunately, at times this feels like a lecture.
Cinematographers William Sheridan and Stephen Ramplin provide intimate footage of the athlete’s struggle, capturing this flight.
Director Jemma van Loenen ultimately serves up an absorbing story of an athlete dedicated to their sport, a portrait of an individual fighting for, and fighting against herself.