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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Rebels of the Neon God
Rebels of the Neon God
Big Vision // Unrated // October 27, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted November 17, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Directed by Ming-liang Tsai in 1992, Rebels Of The Neon God is essentially a story of youth gone wild and teenage rebellion, but even here, in his directorial debut, the director manages to put some interesting touches on a genre that's been done to death over the years.

The main story revolves around Hsaio-kang (Kang-sheng Lee, who would work with Ming-liang Tsai quite often in future endeavors) who is feeling the pressure when it comes time to prepare for his college entrance exams. He's got a bit of a temper about him and is prone to occasional outburst, some of which can be pretty over the top. At the same time, two other teenagers, Ah-Tze (Chao-jung Chen) and Ah-Bing (Chang-bin Jen) , are busting the change out of phone booths and hitting up the video arcades. Their worlds sort of intertwine a bit here and there, they live in the same part of Tapei and so that doesn't seem so implausible and eventually Hsaio-kang starts to become a bit obsessed with Ah-Tze, almost to the point where he's stalking the guy.

Things get complicated when Ah-Tze starts to fall for Ah-Keui (Yu-Wen Wang), the pretty girl who lives in the same apartment building as the two hoods. As they start to grow closer, Hsaio-kang becomes incredibly upset and he vandalizes Ah-Tze's motorcycle. This sets into a motion a series of events where Ah-Tze, Ah-Ping and Ah-Keui try to get out of the neighborhood while Hsaio-kang seems to fall further into madness after defying his parents and dropping out.

As bleak as it is stylish, Rebels Of The Neon God does a great job of accentuating the congestion of the urban environment where it all plays out while simultaneously showing us just how alone some of its characters are. Yes, they may be crammed into a packed inner city space but there is, especially on the part of Hsaio-kang, a definite social disconnect of sorts. There are all these people around him all the time but he has trouble relating to them, connecting with them. And as anyone who has spent any time in a big city can tell you, that's really not all that uncommon, particularly for people in the age range of our central characters in this particular film.

The performances here are good. Chao-jung Chen and Chang-bin Jen are believable as the trouble making friends. You never get the impressions that these guys want to become career criminals, they really seem to do what they do to make a bit of extra ‘fun money' and really, more importantly, out of boredom. These guys put off the right sort of attitude to play their parts convincingly. Yu-Wen Wang (who shows up in Eat, Drink, Man, Woman) is also fine as the love interest/catalyst for the conflict that arises. She's pretty, smart and in her own way rather ambitious. Kang-sheng Lee has the most memorable character and in turn delivers the most memorable work here. His Hsaio-kang would seem to know somehow that he's damned to toil away the rest of his young life in Tapei. He studies hard and does what his parents want him to do, at least initially, but it would seem that the lack of real job prospects and upward mobility combined with his lack of social connections lets the guy know even early in his life that he's stuck. If you look at the movie from that angle, it goes some way towards explaining things.

Those looking for traditional narrative structure might not walk away from this one completely satisfied, however. Like a lot of the director's films, this one is more of a look into the lives of certain characters at a specific time and place rather than what most would consider to be a story arc. Having said that, this film does what it does very well and if nothing else it not only makes you think, but it makes you feel for the characters, which is not an insignificant achievement in its own right.

The DVD:

Video:

Rebels Of The Neon God arrives on DVD framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in a decent looking transfer that never quite gets to reference quality. Detail is about what you'd expect for an early nineties standard definition transfer. Colors look pretty good here and black levels are okay but occasionally closer to a dark grey than true black. The image is fairly clean, there isn't a whole lot of print damage here to note, and compression artifacts are held in check. This is a fairly decent transfer.

Sound:

The only audio option for the feature is an Mandarin language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with forced subtitles provided in English only. Balance is good here, the sound effects and the score have a bit of punch to them but don't ever bury the dialogue. The subtitles are clear and easy to read and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.

Extras:

Extras are slim, limited to a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few unrelated movies, static menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

Rebels Of The Neon God is occasionally an exercise in style over substance but it's an interesting movie not just for its look and its settings but also for the fact that it's Tsai's first film and as such, fans will appreciate seeing the filmmaker's roots. The DVD release looks and sounds alright but is light on extras. Recommended for those who have seen the film and enjoyed it, a solid rental for the curious uninitiated simply because it's pretty off the beaten path and not a particularly mainstream endeavor.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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