Two small-town nobodies who get cheap thrills from car dash-cam videos lay eyes on more than they can handle in “The Great Buddha+,” a mordant black comedy that’s a digital-era homage to “Rear Window.” Sporting an ingeniously cinematic concept that’s nimbly executed by writer-director Huang Hsin-yao and producer-DP Chung Mong-hong, this ballad of sad losers mixed with satire on parochial politics is convulsively funny yet uncompromisingly bleak, bridging art with entertainment. Arguably the best film to emerge from a year of exciting resurgence in Taiwan, which hasn’t produced an independent film that addresses themes both local and global in some time, “Buddha” swept the board at the Taipei Film Awards, and should be blessed with numerous festival invitations.
A documentary filmmaker with several awards under his belt, Huang caught the eye of auteur Chung Mong-hong (“Godspeed,” “Soul”) with his first fiction short, after which Chung offered to produce as well as shoot a feature-length version. Under his usual pseudonym Nagao Nakashima, Chung lensed the dramatic parts in crisp, artfully composed black-and-white, while using an iPhone6+ to capture footage as if seen from a dash cam in glowing color (hence the “+” appended to its English title).
That would have remained a mere exercise subverting the grainy, monochrome texture associated with found-footage films, if not for the warm touch added by Huang’s cheeky running voiceover commentaries. A born raconteur, his choice use of puns and obscenities in Taiwanese dialect is a source of constant delight as well as insight into his protagonists’ inner thoughts.
According to the helmer, he strove to convey the pathos of Taiwan’s underclass, more often the butt of jokes in movies or on TV. True enough, the central figures are either country bumpkins or social outcasts, whom he furnishes with quirky traits, unfortunate backstories and varying degrees of…