The Falls

Pu Bu
2021 / 129m - Taiwan
The Falls poster

Catching up with the latest Mong-Hong Chung film used to require a lot of effort, but those times seem to be over (for the time being at least). Without too much noise, his latest film landed on Netflix, meaning it is just a click away for a substantial amount of people. The Falls [Pu Bu] was announced as one of the first real COVID dramas, and in a sense that's not a lie, at the same time it's selling Chung's latest effort a little short. It was quite a bit better than I expected going in, fans of his earlier work can rest assured that Chung's usual qualities are abundantly present.

screen capture of The Falls [Pu Bu]

You cannot underestimate the effect of a big public win. I've been a fan of Chung for quite a while now, but there was virtually no interest in his work outside a small niche of arthouse fans willing to look beyond the Taiwanese New. Wave. That all changed when A Sun won big at the Golden Horse awards and Netflix picked up the film. Suddenly people started to notice Chung's work (though the attention hasn't really spilled over to his older films) and his next feature was released globally after a short festival run. As someone who isn't too enamored by physical film festivals, that's a godsend.

The Falls is set during the pandemic and uses the global crisis to kick-start its drama, but apart from some smaller details, the core drama doesn't really center on the pandemic. Instead, Chung focuses on a single mom who slowly starts to drift, with only her teen daughter around to take care of her. While the pandemic no doubt functions as a catalyst for her condition, it's hardly the sole reason for her troubles. I understand the need to coin this as a COVID drama, it certainly makes it look very current and topical, but it's somewhat of a misrepresentation of the film.

When one of Jing's classmates is diagnosed with corona, her mom (Pin-wen) gets a call during an important business meeting, telling her to come and pick up her daughter at the hospital. Jing needs to quarantine, her mom decides to take some time off from work, to take care of her. Jing doesn't seem too pleased and behaves very stand-offish. When Pin-wen wakes up one night during a heavy storm, she finds Jing's window open and her daughter gone. She runs out outside in search of her daughter, but soon after finds herself hospitalized instead. Jing gets a message from the hospital that she has to come and pick up her mom.

screen capture of The Falls [Pu Bu]

Chung started out as a cinematographer, so it's really no surprise that his films look extremely polished. Unsurprising as it may be, the cinematography is one of their major qualities, and a big asset in setting themselves apart from the competition. Chung's use of color is exquisite, the camera work is stylish and deliberate, and the framing is very inspired. It's always pleasant hanging around in Chung's universes, even when the drama gets a bit tougher and the characters a little less easy to like. The Falls isn't his best-looking film, but still well ahead of most of the competition.

The soundtrack too deserves some accolades, even when it isn't quite on the same level as the visuals. It's not a generic and predictable score, which is already quite a lot for a dedicated drama. Chung makes deliberate use of the music to shift moods around and underline the important dramatic moments, it never just fades into the background. There are some scenes where the sound design is excellent and the music itself is pretty good too, though some tunes could've used a little extra character. A better composer might've given the film an even bigger impact, but the score certainly isn't bad.

The performances are excellent across the board, though that statement comes with a small warning. I have no idea who thought it was a smart idea to provide a dub for this film, just avoid it like the plague. The dub quality is atrocious (almost comical in places) and really kills the subtle and heartfelt performances from the main cast. If you feel you need a dub to enjoy a "foreign film", this is probably not going to be for you anyway. That said, props To Alyssa Chia and Jingle Wang for carrying this film with grace and ease, the rest of the cast is great as well.

screen capture of The Falls [Pu Bu]

Though The Falls is primarily a drama film, there are still genre remnants present. The first part is meant to put the viewer on the wrong track, and the ending is a pretty big shocker. People expecting a deadly serious film might be taken aback by this a bit, as someone with a taste for a good genre flick, I welcome these elements. They don't really get in the way of the drama and provide some extra intrigue. The ending is no doubt the most divisive part of the film, and while I'm not certain if it adds anything substantial, I did find it very poignant and effective. Your mileage may vary.

With success comes a tendency to direct more commercially viable films. Chung can't escape this industry truth, only he made the switch with class and dignity. Though I prefer his earlier work, The Falls is an incredibly capable film that oozes quality. From the stylish cinematography and the accomplished score to the strong performances and intriguing plot, Chung delivers quality across the board. Newfound fans won't be disappointed, long-time fans will still find pleasure in Chung's signature delivery. And don't forget, it's only a click away, so don't waste the chance.