After a week of horror, gore, drama, romance, action and adventure, East Winds Film Festival 2017 ended on a bright note with a delightful comedy all the way from Taiwan. ‘The Village Of No Return’, the latest film signed by “The Master of Comedies” Chen Yu-Hsun, has a unique charm that will make even the cynics laugh.
Set just after the fall of the Qing dynasty in the isolated “Desire Village”, the film is a rural satire, a Bruegel painting with oriental landscapes and Asian figures. Opening with an eerie, even surrealist image of two human body-shaped kites floating undisturbed over the blue sky, the film has a way of combining fantasy, irony, and a hint of dark humour.
On the dreamy and idyllic background of the village, the figures of the villagers are caricaturically sketched bearing some of the most common human flaws. They only seem to care for themselves, throwing the blame from one’s garden to another’s; one of the inhabitants is even ready to shamelessly betray “Desire Village”, and the only thing that stops him is his own death. The death of Big Pie, who leaves behind a wife both feeling guilty and released, tangles Shi Baopi’s (Eric Tsang) and the Cloud Clan’s plans of taking over the village, but not for long.
The whole narrative stands under the premise that the least intelligent ones are the easiest to be manipulated, announced from the first minutes of the film. Following the saying “Ignorance is bliss”, the villagers have an unusual encounter with a mysterious man named Fortune Tien (Wang Qianyuan) and his “Worry Rider”, the strange device which can release the villagers from their daily worries by erasing their memories.
With the promise of complete happiness and for an insignificant monetary reward, everyone, except Autumn (Shu Qi), Big Pies’ widow, queue to have their memories wiped out, without realising that their memories were exactly what made them who they were.
With no memories at all, they could be anything or anyone, but they become marionettes in Fortune Tien’s hands, who takes control of the village, and marries Autumn, after making her forget her husband’s death and her love for Dean (Tony Yang). The villagers blissfully follow all the commands of their new master, without questioning, while Autumn discovers the secrets and “souls” hidden in the “Worry Rider”.
The village is eventually attacked by the Cloud Clan, of which Dean has been a part for the last 3 years, while his childhood lover was struggling to survive in a forced and unhappy marriage. The villagers almost fail to protect their homes, but are saved in the last minute by “the Magic Knuckle King”.
Autumn restores their memory, is finally reunited with Dean and becomes the new leader. Shu Qi is charming in Autumn’s role, endowing the character with the exact wit, ingenuity and cunning, to make the character both funny and convincing.
The vivid colours, the mesmerising cinematography, the buffoonish characters and the witty hum all contour an entrancing story about the value of one’s memories which are more than just past experiences, but small pieces of one’s soul.
Review by Maria Mantaluta