Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review – The Wall-Passer

September 23, 2008

The Wall-Passer – Taiwan, 2007

To completely buy what we see in The Wall-Passer, we must be very accepting. We must accept that a rock found at a nuclear power plant could enable someone to pass through walls. We must go along with the idea that walls are a gateway to another world that may or may not be connected in some way to ours. In addition, we must accept that two people could know these things and still carry on conversations about mundane, ordinary matters such as cram schools and relationships. It could just be me, but if someone insinuates that our world is her creation, a mere figment of her imagination, I think I’d have more of a reaction then just becoming a class clown.

The film of which I speak is writer-director Hung Hung’s The Wall-Passer, an odd, somewhat satisfying film that is filled with more than enough plot holes and dead ends to frustrate your average filmgoer. It is also a film that can be said to consist of two halves. The first half involves a young man named Tye (Yung-cheng Chang) who feels out of place and a young woman named NoNo (Chia-ying Lee) who catches his eye and inspires him. The film is set in the future, in the part of Taiwan that has not been decimated by a massive earthquake. The area is called Real City. After moving there, Tye struggles to find his purpose in life. As he explains it, he learned piano because his parents had told him to and now, he has quit the piano and begun studying computers, again at the behest of his parents. He is so disinterested that he sleeps through class. One day, on a school field trip to the last remaining nuclear power plant in Taiwan, he chances upon a strange rock, which he puts into his bag for some reason, and a young hearing-impaired woman who works at a museum. They bond quickly, and soon, our protagonist is learning sign language and thinking of their collective futures.

Most of the first part of the film worked for me, as Tye and NoNo’s relationship seemed genuine. However, the rock introduces some peculiar and often inconsistent plot points. Tye begins occasionally slipping through walls, first accidentally, then purposefully. We first see him confused by it because when he goes through walls, he appears to be in a different world. However, the next time he uses this ability, he becomes like Kitty Pride from The X-Men and puts his hand through a glass case to cover up an accident. Additionally, in this scene, he has to walk through a wall, but, in the film’s first inconsistency, does not enter another world in the process. NoNo sees this, yet in another of the film’s illogical moments does not discuss the matter with him, except to say that he may be an alien.

The second part of the movie takes place after NoNo disappears. The only clue to her whereabouts seems to be a set of pictures that she sends him in a farewell email. The pictures show her is a dry, deserted place with a sign that reads “elsewhere.” Tye is determined to find her, so he slips into the wall, into that special other world, to look for her there. However, that world, which resembles that of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, is a dangerous, sparsely populated land of creatures that come after you if you sleep for too long. It is also where Tye meets Ya-hung (Chia-hsin Lu), a blind warrior who is a cross between Lara Croft and Lt. Commander La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ya-hung, who seems to be able to see when it’s necessary for the plot, plays video games and claims to have created Real City, a claim that if true has ramifications for Tye and everyone that he knows.

I found myself somewhat – but not completely – detached from the second part of the film. The film frequently introduces and abandons complex issues, such as the creation of entire worlds and even life itself. It leaves unanswered the film’s central mystery, the location of NoNo, instead choosing to have Tye fall in love for a second time. I suppose we are expected to care which woman he chooses, but if one woman is missing and the other lives in an entirely different world, how much of a choice can this be? We’ve already seen that he doesn’t quite get along with people in his own world. In the end, his decision is either predictable (choosing Ya-hung) or impossible (choosing NoNo), and neither of these possibilities are much to be in suspense over. The film’s emotional resolution does little to resolve this issue.

Still, the film did hold my interest throughout. Its characters are interesting, and the film itself is impressive to look at. I even find myself looking forward to what director Hung Hung comes up with next. In the end, The Wall-Passer is watchable, but you would be wise to leave logic at the door. (on DVD in Region 3)

2 and a half stars

*The Wall-Passer is in Taiwanese and Chinese with English subtitles.

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