Film of the Week: Rebels of the Neon God

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Once the story settles, the title Rebels of the Neon God comes across as an ironic jab towards the film’s protagonists, Ah Tze (Chao-jung Chen) and Ah Bing (Chang-Bin Jen), two hustler friends in love with the same girl, and Hsiao-Kang (Kang-shen Lee), a cram-school drop-out who runs away from home and stalks the latter two. True, all three are rebels in their own right, forced by either social or economic reasons to eke out unconventional lives, but to what end? Perhaps to beat back the sense of alienation. Street Fighter II dominates the backdrop of the film, the rows of glowing arcade cabinets representing the titular “Neon God.” The characters of the film glide like specters through the dim Taipei night, in search of something. If the arcade offers anything, rather, it turns out to be not tools for rebellion, but a moment of reprieve from reality, one transformed into complacency. Liang captures the loneliness, heartbreak, and brutality of it all with a camera that switches between floating and no-movement, finding what comfort it can in the little freedom offered.

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