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Splendid Float

Sat 28 May 2005 In: Movies

SPLENDID FLOAT Dir: Zero Chou, 2004, Taiwan, DVD, 72 mins Splendid Float sounded like an interesting idea. Roy, a Taoist priest who lives a double life as a night-time drag artiste, falls in love with a fisherman. The fisherman is lost at sea, and Roy is called upon in his priestly capacity to summon his soul home from the sea. It sounds like all the ingredients are there for a haunting and moving story, but something went missing along the way. Roy's alter-ego Rose and his drag pals tour the villages of northern Taiwan, performing lip-synch shows on their "splendid float", a truck with a myriad of rainbow lights that looks like it's been caught in a paint factory holocaust – but Priscilla, Queen of the Desert this is not. Roy's relationship with his fisherman lover Sunny is so underdeveloped it's restricted to one post-coital scene between them, where we find out nothing whatsoever. However, Roy's mourning lasts the remainder of the film. Along the way, we get a glimpse of how misunderstood homosexuality is in mainstream Taiwanese society, with Roy's Taoist colleagues unable to understand why he is so upset at the passing of a "stranger", but seeing as Roy and Sunny's relationship hasn't been satisfactorily portrayed, the audience can't really understand it either. Perhaps director Zero Chou is being deliberately obtuse, but this is not artful ambiguity for the most part. It feels like someone wrote a ninety-page screenplay and tore out forty pages from the middle. There's suggestions of infidelity, and that Sunny didn't want a lasting relationship, but it's all undercooked. There are plenty of flashbacks, but these are flashbacks from within the film! Much of the film's seventy-minute length – which feels much longer – is either padded or makes use of repeated sequences, including an incredibly irritating main title song that Rose performs over and over and over again. The good stuff? There are a few genuinely haunting moments. A daydreaming sequence where Roy imagines Sunny's experiences with other lovers takes place entirely in the deathly swells where Sunny drowned, with the camera bobbing in and out of the water in a sickly fashion. Sunny's funeral is also a fascinating insight into the death rites of another culture. The cemetery where he is buried has tombstones full of colour, with the funeral itself marked by boisterous ritual and movement, a far cry from the sombre, grey affair that is your average Western funeral. The film's closing sequence sees Roy's drag queen pals stage a send-off of their own for Sunny, driving their float into the cemetery and performing one last show for him. One thing is certainly settled by this point – no matter what the cultural differences between East and West, drag queens are the same the world over. Will Roy/Rose be able to let go of Sunny and move on, or is he destined to stay slave to mirages and images of the sea? It's a theme which Alfred Hitchcock wrote the book on with his 1958 classic Vertigo, but Splendid Float is too confusing and incoherent to become the drag answer to the Master of Suspense's hymn to obsession. Chris Banks - 28th May 2005    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Saturday, 28th May 2005 - 12:00pm

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