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Bang Bang Formosa

Taiwan (2012) Dir. Andy Luo

Rich daddy’s girl Tan Yan-fei (Renee Yuan) leaves her over protective father behind in Shanghai to go on a graduation trip to Taiwan. Soon after arriving Yan-fei is jumped and locked in the boot of a car. She later awakens only to be arrested by soon-to-retire police officer Pong (Pon Chia Chia) believing her to be part of a carjackers gang. Upon learning of his mistake, Pong is forced to escort Yan-fei back to the airport but a multi-million dollar bounty has been put out for the capture of Yan-fei by the mysterious Zhao-ba (Zhao Li-xin) resulting in a mad cap cross country chase.

When certain messages or styles of humour fail to make an impact outside of their intended audience one will say it was “lost in translation”. This would definitely be the case with Bang Bang Formosa for us non-Asians – unless it’s just me. The only review I could find for this film described it as “a delightful road movie that moves boisterously through contemporary Taiwan” and heaps plenty of praise on it before awarding it four out of five stars. This was from a site called The China Post so my suspicions that the reviewer may have watched a different film from me were soon erased.

While the plot is nothing new the execution is poorly handled presenting us with what essentially amounts to a muddled stream of random and limp silliness. It opens with Pong involved in a shoot out which is portrayed like a Hollywood action scene until Pong stops to chat to a couple running a food stall at the scene. Then Yan-fei pops out of a locked car boot dishevelled and shaken, so Pong naturally assumes she is part of the carjacker gang he is pursuing and arrests her! Even for a comedy this is beyond spurious. At the police station we meet Pong’s daughter Xuan who is the same age as Yan-fei and is also a mode, subject to some strict parenting from Pong. You can guess where this particular thread is going already, can’t you?

So the capricious Yan-fei manages to evade Pong when in town buying some new clothes to explore the local attractions, somehow ending up with a group of pensioners. Meanwhile Shanghai based Zhao-ba sends a mass text to everyone in Taiwan about his reward for capturing Yan-fei, with a brother and sister wannabe rock stars duo (Jiu-kong and Serena Fang) and femme fatale gang leader Mei (Tammy Chen) the main parties taking up the offer. These wild and whacky characters are supposed to provide the colour and humour of the film but the accompanying “gags” are either woefully hackneyed are simply baffling but unequivocally joke free. A temporary diversion arrives in the form of hunky teacher Ma Hao (Johnny Lu) who is involved in the one amusing spoof gag of the film that works otherwise he serves little purpose.

Either one needs to be familiar with writer-director Andy Luo’s sense of humour – like the slow motion gang fight played out to the strains of “Mr Sandman” – or at best have an understanding of the slew of occidental references one is bombarded with otherwise everything simply falls flat on its face. The pacing is fairly brisk until the beginning of the third act when things suddenly get serious and the aforementioned thread with Pong’s daughter is suddenly resurrected. One key factor that remains undisclosed until the very end is the motive for Zhao-ba’s bounty, which, when it arrives is that one twist too may that unfortunately doesn’t make as much sense as it should and certainly lacks the impact Luo was presumably aiming for. Since this was released in time for the prestigious Chinese New Year, the cynics among us may wonder if this film was also designed to act as a travelogue on behalf of the Taiwan Tourist Board for mainland Chinese and other Asian residents since it does show off many of the countries locales to their fullest.

Bang Bang Formosa therefore is a film which one cannot hate since it is not essentially bad (aside from the lousy story structure), but is a hugely disappointing and unsuccessful one for anyone outside of its immediate target audience and thus fails to deliver what many expect from it.