What you need to know
A street racer gives up on himself because of his brother’s accident, until he meets a doctor and makes up his mind to become an ambulance driver.
Street racing is a vibes-based genre. There are no real rules, and we viewers don’t know the route. The only thing that matters is the feeling of speed, of explosive engines, screeching tires, and upshifting gears. Red Line (速命道, a pun on “fate has arrived”), Taiwanese Jacky Ko’s (柯有謙) feature debut, understands this completely, seemingly running on highly effective montage sequences and a heavy bass soundtrack alone. Wonder of wonders, it’s also a rom-com that’s actually romantic (written by Alan Kuo 柯有倫 and Chiu Bing Hao 邱炳豪).
Ever since Jay Chou’s (周杰倫) acting debut in Initial D (2005), based on the Japanese mountain road racing manga, street racing films have been an established film subgenre in Taiwan. Perhaps the popularity of these films has something to do with an abundance of mountain road street racers in Taiwan. Indeed, Red Line is shot in the Yangmingshan area in the north of Taipei, where on nights with good weather souped-up cars roar past on a weekly basis (near my window, no less). Red Line isn’t the first Taiwanese entry in the racing genre (that would be 2021’s Nezha 叱吒風雲, a clichéd but exciting stock car racing film also starring Chou, alongside his wife, Hannah Quinlivan 昆凌), but it’s the first street racing film.
In the first montage sequence, Wang Le (E.SO) is training against his older brother (Kuo), who leaves him in the dust (stunts coordinated by Ko Feng-Chu 朱科豐 — he passed away last year from cancer). We see a mysterious black car take Le’s place and ram his older brother off a mountainside turn. When Le catches up, he finds his brother’s car wrecked, his brother stuck — and then the car explodes.
The Wangs are part of a garage and street racing team called the Blue Colts, including a comms guy (MUTA), numbers guy (Xavier Lin 林志謙), and mechanic (Yuna Lin 林真亦) who’s really there to be a clotheshorse and eye candy, though I’m sure she could give a much livelier performance with better direction and more lines. (The two Lins are also the only actors with significant roles in the film who aren’t professional singers.) None of them believes the police when they conclude that the elder Wang just went too fast.
Le starts drinking all day, mired in grief. On a beer run one day, he happens on a fender bender involving a woman in labor. With the help of passerby Dr. Chen (Ella 陳嘉樺), they get her to Chen’s hospital in time (montage), only for Le to be scolded by her for endangerment via reckless driving.
Seeing the ambulance with the woman’s husband that arrives just after, Le finds his new purpose in life. He buys an ambulance van of his own and works with the Blue Colts to retrofit it to code while studying for the license (a double montage). After meeting his more experienced partner (Cao Ye 草爺), he keeps learning while on the job (a hilarious montage).
At the same time, Le gets to know Chen better, and their chemistry is off the charts. Ella is an experienced double threat, and Chen’s banter is lively and fun. E.SO manages to hold his own, delivering Le’s ripostes with genuine-feeling spontaneity. Le even pulls a classic date move, bringing Chen to an empty baseball stadium late at night; there, he gets truly creative, challenging her to a game of imaginary baseball in a montage that’s completely unbelievable yet bursting with romance. Good vibes only. None of this is hinted at in the trailer, by the way, making this entire subplot very charming indeed.
In fact, the trailer is somewhat misleading, as its main selling point is a street race with an ambulance that comes at the end of the film and is rather brief. We’ve met the ambulance driver; the antagonist is Da Wei, a former professional racer with a tragic past who now takes revenge by killing street racers with his car — he’s played by Andy Lau (劉德華) in black blazer, slacks, and turtleneck. His character is gnomic, possibly suicidal, but what’s for sure is that his clothes and home make him out to be very loaded indeed. (It’s a mini theme: Chen is also tortured about her family’s wealth.)
As the climax draws near, the vibes start to sour. Le and Chen have their first big fight, and the way she comforts him afterward falls afoul of . Da Wei’s nostalgic flashbacks, at first so moving, take on a grayscale veneer and start getting treacly and repetitive. Worst of all, the climax resolution relies on unrealistic geography; admittedly, given the film’s budget and the setup required, it was probably impossible to find the right location.
Aside from those small missteps, and the cringey pre-credits sequence that basically recycles the trailer highlights, the vibes are immaculate. The Taiwanese future of this subgenre is bright.
Red Line is in theaters.
TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)
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