Dan Tangmo , Film Critic
Rebels of the Neon God, Malaysian director Cai Mingliang’s first film, is filled with images of latent homosexuality. Taking its name from Nuozha, the Third Prince, a mythological Chinese god noted for his rebellious nature, the work depicts the conflicts of a group of disaffected Taipei teenagers. Rebels marked the beginning of a longtime collaboration between director Cai and Li Kangsheng, who stars in the film’s leading role. Protagonist Xiao Kang, played by Li, is also featured in many of Cai’s later works. Rebels of the Neon God is Cai’s nod to a personal favorite, French director Francois Truffaut’s 1959 The Four Hundred Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups).
Xiao Kang, the film’s central character, is an introspective loner who dislikes scholastics. Unwilling to participate in university entrance examinations, he gets a tuition refund, leaves the cram school where he has been studying, and spends his days hanging out on the streets. When his mother takes him to a temple to consult a spirit medium, the seer tells her Xiao Kang is the reincarnation of Nuozha. Two other youths, A-ze and A-bin, a pair of petty thieves, pass their time roving the city streets on scooters. A-ze carries a heavy lock on his scooter, using it to smash anything that displeases him. When A-ze vandalizes Xiao Kang’s father’s taxicab, Xiao Kang retaliates by trashing A-ze’s scooter during a heavy rainstorm. In a rapidly modernizing Taipei the youths share a common bond of loneliness.
Rebels of a Neon God captures Taipei in the midst of building a mass rapid transit system, the city appearing to be a vast, disordered construction site in which the youths carry out their desperate struggles. Documentary-like images of Taipei – skating rinks, karaoke bars, BB-gun shops, scooters careening through the streets – create a grim subspace within the highly developed urban center, where the youths can find neither a place of their own nor a way out. The young men are alienated from their families as well – Xiao Kang cannot communicate with his parents, and his father’s patriarchal authority is simply another type of repression.
Rebels of the Neon God is noted for its treatment of latent homosexuality. The taciturn Xiao Kang, rebelling against his family and father, anxiously seeks masculine approval, yet silently fights back against maleness and patriarchy. His response to A-ze’s pursuit and destructive behavior hints at a desire for A-ze and other males. Cai Mingliang would give full play to this gay undercurrent in later films such as Vive l’Amour and The River.
|Related Literary Themes：||LGBT Literature|