Originally released back in 2007, “God Man Dog” was the second feature from Taiwanese writer director Singing Chen, following some years after his 2000 award winning debut “Bundled”. His sophomore effort was also a critical success, playing at festivals around the world, and claiming the Tagesspiegel Reader’s Prize at Berlin in 2008. The film now makes a very welcome appearance on region 2 DVD via Terracotta Distribution, and comes with a variety of special features, including cast interviews, a production featurette, deleted scenes, footage from Berlin and more.
There really is too much going on in “God Man Dog” to easily summarise the plot, but basically it follows a series of seemingly disparate characters as they go through a variety of tests and trials in modern day Taiwan, with religion and fate often being common linking factors. These include an aboriginal man (Ulao Ugan) who turns to Christianity to try and help him beat alcoholism, his daughter Savi, a kickboxer who teams with her model friend in a dangerous S&M scheme, a truck driver who transports a giant Buddhist statue and other religious artefacts (played by Jack Kao, recently in “Shinjuku Incident”), a homeless teenage boy called Hsien (Jonathan Chang, also in “Yi Yi”) who survives by winning eating competitions, and a depressed pianist (Taiwanese popstar Tarcy Su) who goes on a scenic trip with her husband after the cot death of their young baby threatens to end their troubled marriage.
Although the various narrative threads do eventually come together, “God Man Dog” is a far less structured or overtly driven affair in the same way that other similarly themed efforts such as “Babel” or “21 Grams” have been. Here, the drama is largely character driven, with Singing being far more content to simply let their lives and troubles unfold in a naturalistic fashion. Whilst this does mean that the film tends to meander in places, with much of it being seemingly unconnected or irrelevant, it is never too obscure, and makes for fascinating and engaging viewing, mainly since all of the characters are interesting, and since their individual tales are all fascinating and eccentric enough in their own right. Inevitably, there is a fair amount of coincidence employed to bring things together, though whether or not this comes across as contrivance or fate is largely left up to the viewer to decide.
Religion plays a very important role, and Singing explores the clashes and differences between Buddhism and Christianity in modern Taiwan, and the essential ways in which they can change people or affect how they lead their lives. Unsurprisingly, since the film does venture into some potentially quite depressing territory, this does frequently relate to religion being used as a coping method, touching on issues of guilt and hypocrisy, though he takes a pleasingly even handed approach, never offering any definitive answers or trite judgements. Similarly, the film is mercifully free of melodrama, and whilst it is sad and moving in places, there is very little wallowing or manipulative playing upon the characters’ miseries. As such, the film is a philosophical work, filled with symbolism and layers of different possible interpretations.
Visually, the film is impressive, thanks to some gorgeous cinematography by Ko-shang Shen, who gives it a wonderfully understated beauty, whether during the urban or countryside scenes. Singing certainly has an eye for oddball details, and though he thankfully never overplays his hand, he gives the proceedings a subtle hint of surrealism. Again, this helps to keep things interesting, and although the film is fairly long, it never outstays its welcome.
Certainly, for viewers looking for something quietly thoughtful, “God Man Dog” is an intriguing, intelligent film, which feels far less forced than other recent multi-narrative efforts. Singing Chen obviously has a lot of ideas which he is trying to explore and convey, and he succeeds in quietly ingenious fashion, whilst at the same time managing to make the film engaging and entertaining in a more traditional sense.
Singing Chen (director) / Singing Chen, Yi-an Lou (screenplay)
CAST: Tarcy Su … Ching-ching
Jack Kao … Yellow Bull
Han Chang … Hsiung
Jonathan Chang … Hsien
Ka-yi Mo … Mei
Hsiao-han Tu … Savi