January 10, 2013
Revenge of the Factory Woman – Taiwan, 2011
Revenge of the Factory Girl is about two women, best friends in fact, who at first glance couldn’t be more different. In an early scene, one of them, a young woman with an infectious smile named Yvonne, sits outside observing the festivities inside, as if taking part in them would represent a grand departure from her traditional demeanor. The other, Sophie, stands inside, shimmying to the fast-paced rhythm of the latest pop tunes. Her dance partner, curiously enough, is her best friend’s fiancé, Gordon. When Yvonne is finally coaxed onto the dance floor, it is to dance to a slow tune, and the distance she stands apart from the man she has decided to marry will likely remind people of the junior high school dances at Catholic schools, where Sisters make sure that youngsters remain at arms length. As it to be expected with someone in love as much as Yvonne is, during the dance, the smile never leaves her face, and her eyes never leave Gordon’s. This is unfortunate, for had she looked around, she would surely have seen the eyes of her best friend glued to the same guy.
The three characters at the heart of Revenge of the Factory Woman are surprisingly universal. Yvonne is the kind of woman that practically every man I know at one point has thought he wanted. Sweet and giving, she’s the kind of woman who puts the man she loves first and is willing to sacrifice small pleasures to ensure that he can get something he wants. Using that same reasoning, I suppose Sophie is the kind of woman that many men secretly desire, for she seems to approach life as if there were no boundaries. She is clearly outgoing, and her joy while partying and mixing it up on the dance floor is obvious, yet there’s more to the character. She has sense of freedom that Yvonne has never known. And then there’s Gordon, the man caught between the woman he wants to marry and the woman he feels himself being drawn to. It’s a powder keg just waiting to be set off.
The film works on several levels. First, it realistically establishes the friendship between Yvonne and Sophie, while simultaneously establishing the dangerous attraction forming between Gordon and Sophie. Credit for this rightly goes to director and writer Gavin Liu, who, in just his sophomore film, demonstrates an impressive understanding of men and women and the temptations that they both can face. Credit should also go to the three lead actors, each of them making their film debuts and showing that they deserve to appear on the silver screen for some time. In fact, had the film performed better at the box office, I have no doubt that they would have quickly been given the opportunity.
Second, the film provides viewers with an eye-opening journey into a part of Taiwanese society that films rarely show, for the film demonstrates just how quickly seemingly rationale characters can become utterly unhinged and act in ways that they would normally look at and be critical of. This is unfortunately all too common in Taiwan, and incidents of it are regularly reported in the newspaper. The film also demonstrates the power that the legal system in Taiwan affords a wronged woman and the way this power can be misused. In a way, the events that unfold in the film resemble a case of road rage, and such instances are rarely reversible.
If there is a fault with the film, it is its background music, which far too often resembles that of everyday soap operas and strips several scenes of the emotional power that they would otherwise have had. A case could also be made that the film wraps things up too neatly, relying on film clichés rather than something original. In a pivotal scene, I was a step ahead of the film, and exactly what I thought would happen occurred. It was unfortunate, yet entirely realistic for a movie about characters in this situation. Perhaps more importantly, the scene provides at least a few of these characters with an opportunity to achieve the happiness that they so richly deserve. And as a spectator, this is what I wanted for them. A very moving experience, indeed. (on DVD in Region 3)
*Revenge of the Factory Woman is in Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles.