Thanks to Cheng Cheng Films for a complimentary screener of this film for the purposes of review in advance of its opening in Atlanta in November this year:
If the movie The Great Buddha+ had to be described in just two words, they would “predictably comedic.” From the beginning of the story, the movie is a sprawling series of dialogue that is both hilarious and entertaining to boot, a glorified attribute of the film that its filmmakers richly carry throughout. And with its intriguing storyline, The Great Buddha+ quickly escalates into a magnitude of filmmaking. Beginning with the introduction of Pickle, a man with multiple jobs and takes care of his sick mother, the film chronicles the journey of Pickle through a unique lens. During the night shift, Pickle works as a security guard for a man named Kevin. This structural decision leads to multiple sequences involving Pickle and his friend Belly Button looking at profane magazines, an example of the ludicrous aspects of the film. However, their television malfunctions, leading the pair to be forced to watch videos on Kevin’s dash cam, leading to several exposes the true “colors” of their boss.
Leading to a cascade of escalating events, climaxing in a shocking plot twist, The Great Buddha+ never became an experience that was either wholly unique or original, outside of a poignant finale that will lead a bitter-sweet taste in viewers’ mouths.
Directed with utter finesse by Huang Hsin-yao, known for his work with 2010’s documentary Taivalu, the film shows a level of craft that even bends down to the most obscure details such as the individual casting of each role. The performances on display that the actors showcased were believable and led to an overall richer experience. The clear stand-outs included Bamboo Chen as Belly Bottom and Leon Dai as Kevin Huang. With such a lavish and tightly written screenplay, these two performances from relatively lowly-known actors were surprising due to their intricate detailing and startling expressions.
In terms of its technicalities as a foreign indie production, the film is relatively well made, but still shared the frequent issues of the more abstract and artistic film productions. An example of this would be the inclusion of statements noting the obvious frequently throughout the screenplay. The choice often leaves the impression that the audience is attempting to pander to the audience to prevent them from becoming disinterested to either boredom or confusion. It’s a disappointing chance that appears both unnecessary and overplayed, particularly during the conclusion.
Moments like these are littered throughout the film, somewhat perturbing the consistency and coherency that the film attempts to elegantly portray. There are some tonal inconsistencies as well as various plot holes and unnecessary clichés that director Huang Hsin-yao implements. These issues could have been bypassed all together, but it’s clear that the filmmakers or studio didn’t have enough faith to truly invest in what potentially could have been a series of riveting ideas.
Aside from these minor details that tarnish the edges of the experience, the film is still wonderfully executed due to its tightly written screenplay and lavish performances. To my distinct surprise, the film was interpretable in both its Mandarin and English state, simply due to how visceral and visual the experience is rather than relying entirely on its screenplay. The award-winning soundtrack certainly didn’t hurt this aspect either as it invoked the emotions of its viewers and blended the multiple attributes of the film, from its characters to its pacing, in a seamless matter. Even with these tarnishes, The Great Buddha+ is a dazzling experience that is a genuine contender for this year’s Academy Awards in the best foreign-language category.
Score: 8.5 out of 10