Mr. Tsai typically uses narrative as a tool for exploring the moods and meanings that link his characters with one another and with the city that awakens, contains and frustrates their desires. They seem very much stuck in their world, but because that world is the creation of a wildly original artist coming into his own, it also feels alive with possibility.
Stream Rebels of the Neon God
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
Tsai Ming-liang's debut makes one yearn for an alternative reality where it, not Pulp Fiction, became the beacon of '90s independent filmmaking.
Tsai’s work sees generational defiance as a symptom of the ennui felt by their young subjects as they drift into adulthood, and Rebels’ unusually sharp focus on that theme makes it an accessible primer for the elements that would inform the more oblique masterpieces to come.
Tsai isn't without mischief — one key to this film's hypnotic power is humor so subtle it's practically subliminal — but his preferred takeaway is the pathos, the still-universal frustration, of an unanswered ringtone.
Rebels of the Neon God rarely cracks a smile, but it’s as droll as it is disaffected.
Consequently, it’s primarily of interest to longtime fans, or to those who think they might become fans and want to take this opportunity to start at the beginning. If nothing else, this is a rare case in which a director’s feature debut doubles as his greatest-hits album. To watch it is to simultaneously see where Tsai Ming-liang came from and precisely where he was headed.
Despite the self-conscious derivativeness and allusions, Tsai’s debut already demonstrates the contrariness and motifs that have distinguished him as a unique, difficult, and transcendent filmmaker.
As a first film, it is incredibly accomplished, its influences (French New Wave, Wong Kar-Wai) apparent but integrated.
Though Rebels Of The Neon God is missing the austerity and discipline that would make Tsai’s master-shot style so effective—and funny—its relatively conventional approach (including a recurring musical theme!) doesn’t obscure the beautiful, enigmatic tone that’s long set him apart.
A breathtaking, disturbing look at urban angst and the emptiness of youth culture.