The Wall-Passer [Chuan Qiang Ren] is the type of film that passes you by if you blink. Blink again and you'll have forgotten all about this film. Which is a real shame, because underneath its inconspicuous facade and marketing there's a genuine tour de force waiting to be discovered. Lucky for me, I didn't blink and decided to try this one out.
I ran into this film by chance, and even though it didn't really attract my attention at first I somehow got to watching it anyway. I do like Taiwanese films, still I often limit myself to the bigger names. I'd never heard of Hung Hung, but since he worked with Edward Yang before, he's not what you'd call totally unknown to the industry. He also directed a few films of his own, and even though I have no idea how they relate to The Wall-Passer, they sky-rocketed on my scale of interest.
Apparently The Wall-Passer is a low-budget film, but that never shines through. From the beginning on the film looks and sounds absolutely lush. The story is set in the future, but rather than throwing in a lot of CG, Hung Hung opted to portray an ultra-modern world. He used lots of lighting effects, bright colors and modern architecture to create a crisp, clean vision of his future. Still, during the first half the film is still very much a Taiwanese prototype film, with lingering, precise shots and typical classical background music, following a blooming love story.
The second half of the film is different, with lots of pretty black and white visuals and some odd but compelling choices of music. This all melts together to create a pretty unique audiovisual experience, bordering on many influences from other Asian directors, but definitely creating a unique world of its own. It's also nice to see that the film doesn't cave in after halfway. Hung Hung keeps up his exquisite presentation throughout.
Most negative comments on the film (as far as you can find any comments) are aimed at the shift halfway through, and the meandering plot in general. After the halfway mark, the whole dynamic shifts as one character completely disappears and a new one is introduced. Suddenly the film gets an extra fantastical dimension and apart from the fact that we are still following the main character, this could just as well have been another film.
And even if you don't mind all that, it's still pretty hard to get really grounded in the film as the story takes place in a loosely defined future, but also plays and hints with fantastic and dreamlike elements. At the end, it's hard to grasp how much of the film was supposed to be "real" and how much was purely symbolic. Even though I understand the disappointment of people, for me personally it is something that made this film even better. The basic premise of the film might not be too challenging, but it's rare to see a film throw so many fresh elements into the mix, making The Wall-Passer a truly unique experience.
The film also has a pretty clever ending, wanting you to look back at the film and re-evaluate what you have just seen. It's not often that a film can still surprise me these days, and if only for that, The Wall-Passer is a splendid experience. Add some awesome visuals and some pretty weird but cool choice of music in the second half, and what you get is something that might leave you scratching your head (without being truly absurd or weird), but definitely feels fresh. Lovely film which comes highly recommended. Don't miss it if you run into it. It's hard to predict whether you'll like it, but the experience of watching it is interesting enough.