Shizuko and Jie are two lonely and reclusive young people who remain cocooned in their rooms most of the day, but play online games together. Although neither has met the other they form an online friendship and during a conversation, Shizuko convinces Jie to go on a mission for her and to get an expensive Manga figure that she desperately wants. It’s a decision that not only pulls them apart but may also bring them closer together. Here’s our review of Taiwanese director Yi-Feng Chang’s debut short film Farewell to The Ark.
In 1984 there was a Japanese feature film released that was also titled ‘Farewell To The Ark’. It went to the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and garnered a lot of critical acclaims. Back then that film was billed as a ‘mystery drama’ and focused on forbidden love. Two incestuous cousins living in a boring, rustic Japanese village commit a murder and then run away together to live in the forest as man and wife. The further away the couple get from civilization the more they lose track of the world around them and as time goes by the man becomes more and more unhinged finally descending into some sort of madness.
Whether or not this earlier film was an influence on director Yi-Feng Chang I can’t be sure, however, there are certainly a few parallels between the two, within his interesting if somewhat convoluted debut. Not only can this ‘Farewell To The Ark’ also be considered a mystery drama but it also focuses on love. Although this time it is more of the unrequited rather than the forbidden kind, however, there is a short aside about incest that does occur. It is all given a fairly modern hi-tech twist with a lot of the dialogue between characters taking place via online messenger and within text conversations.
Jie and Shizuko have never met but they spend a lot of time playing an online game together. Both live fairly lonely existences in their mundane town. Jie is constantly depressed and run down he is never able to grasp his emotions and is always a victim of circumstance. He is bullied, teased at work and bossed around at home, he is unable to vent the hatred he has for his father, supervisor, colleagues the people who regularly take advantage of him. He is a pressure cooker ready to blow therefore the Internet is his only refuge. Actor Yu-Chieh Cheng gives a very affecting performance here. Shizuko is far more upbeat about life; she is fun and bubbly and also a YouTube dancer who dresses up as Manga characters and films herself dancing to Asian pop hits.
During one of their sessions, Shizuko asks Jie to get her an expensive Manga figure from the local comic book shop. Jie is penniless but attempts to get it anyway and it is this incident that sets up the rest of the story. Jie goes missing and Shizuko blames herself deeply for it. She loses her lust for life and stops dancing she no longer has that joyful spark or confidence and settles back down to her boring everyday life in her dull and grey nameless town.
The third part of our triangle is the pretty but seemingly emotionless Xian-Xian lead singer of an amateur local band Arko. She has accepted a well-paid job for her group but they have to dress up and play as a Manga animated pop group ‘The Lost Ark’ which proves a hard sell to her bandmates. They are also in need of an extra dancer.
There is a lot to admire about Chang’s directorial style the images feel fresh and are great to look at, the bright manga colours used sporadically are a great contrast to the grey hometown, while he manages to coax some lovely, natural performances from his cast. I found the plot a little confusing at times, I didn’t think the jumping back and forth through the timeline was clearly defined enough which was a slight hindrance some slight errors in the subtitles didn’t help matters. Meanwhile, I was disappointed with the ending as it seemingly didn’t have one. The film had done really well to get me invested in these characters and I wanted the loose ends tied up but unfortunately, they weren’t and we were left with a lot more questions that softened the dramatic impact.
That said ‘Farewell To The Ark’ is a decent debut film with fine performances from its cast. It’s a modern, high tech character study that gives us some new insights into a culture we don’t know enough about. I just wish Yi-Feng Chang had been able to give more answers.