Chang Tso-chi's “Thanatos, Drunk“ is a tender tale centring around a group of troubled souls in riverside Taipei, where human bodies are positioned in parallel to animal bodies.
Like Paradise in Service's director Doze Niu, Chang Tso-chi (张作骥), who directed Thanatos, Drunk (醉•生梦死) was also caught in a storm of controversies during the shooting and had to deal with various issues such as withdrawal of funds. His lawsuit belongs to the private domain though. Charged with rape by a scriptwriter, he was convicted and has lodged an appeal so he is generally prohibited to leave Taiwan until the case is settled.
Precise cinematic language
In terms of portrayal of slow-brewing sexuality and troubled souls, I think Chang did a much better job than Niu. He demonstrated once again his ease at telling stories through precise cinematic language. Compared to his previous film When Love Comes (当爱来的时候) which focuses on puzzlement of an underage pregnant girl, Thanatos, Drunk is more ambitious and daring. Notwithstanding Chang's usual obsession with the underworld, the film opens up to a wider range of issues such as sexuality, family structure, faithfulness, responsibility, and guilt.
Strong presence of animals
Up till the middle of the film I adored it. Its episodic structure elegantly cuts in between the segments of the film right before any part is fully unfolded. The Cityscape of old buildings on a hill along a river functions as a visualised social commentary and sets the tone. A handheld camera circles around the film’s characters in an intimate manner. What is really beautiful is the way the strong presence of animals provides some philosophical reflections on the body’s perishability and banality of death. The “dancing” sequences between an ant and a maggot and between the two male characters are juxtaposed; images of a drowning mouse body alternate with those of tilapia – visually hinting at Thanatos, the ancient Greek god of Death from the very beginning.
Experiment on narrative time
Although the appearance of Xuefeng Lu (吕雪凤) is brief and erratic, her role as the insecure drunkard mother skilfully balances theatricality and grassroots demeanour. It is indeed a pity that the film loses its momentum in the second half. Zhang's experiment on narrative time by blending in imaginary and images within images does not set the film free or create a labyrinthine multi-layered temporality, but instead, it ends up so messy that it is almost as if the film was intoxicated by all the alcohol consumed on screen.