MOVIE REVIEW: 'Tshiong' – Unabashedly Taiwanese Hyper Metal Madness

MOVIE REVIEW: 'Tshiong' – Unabashedly Taiwanese Hyper Metal Madness
Credit: REUTERS/Pichi Chuang
What you need to know

The long-awaited Chthonic movie will be released December at Kaohsiung Film Festival, but considering the band’s political stance and esoteric music, will it be too much for a Taiwanese – much less an international – audience?

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Comedy and metal music don’t make for easy bedfellows, "Metalocalypse" (an adult cartoon series) antics aside, but as fans of international Taiwanese black metal sensation Chthonic know well, the band is as notorious for their quirky ways as their heavy music.

A full three years after initial filming, their upcoming movie is a hilarious hodgepodge of brash youthful energy, political commentary, Hollywood-grade action and cult-classic grade quirk. “Tshiong” (衝組), a Taiwanese term translating roughly to ‘rebellious’ or ‘brash’. The pronunciation in Taiwanese tshiong zo is a parody of frontman Freddy Lim’s Taiwanese name, which is homophonous. For those unfamiliar with Lim, he is a founding member of Taiwan's New Power Party, an opposition party created in 2015 to sustain the tide of pro-independence sentiment that swept the nation in during the Sunflower Movement.

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Credit: Chthonic
Chthonic bandleader Doris Yeh poses between the male members of the band and protagonist A-Tek.

The movie itself follows the antics of protagonist A-Tek and his quest to save his rural hometown from the claws of Chinese capitalism as he travels from southern Taiwan to the capital in search of his heroes, international metal sensation Chthonic, whom he’s hoping will help him stand up for his land by holding a protest concert back home. The story takes an unlikely turn when he discovers his would-be saviors aren’t quite as he imagined. Constricted by the demands of their China-friendly sponsors (the aptly named Eyeball Corporation, a riff on EyeCTV, a pro-unification news channel), the band is forced to curb their hot-headed nature and put a hold on A-tek’s proclivity for rioting and protests.

Even for those unfamiliar with the band, it is easy enough to follow, though many of the more Taiwanese elements can make it difficult to catch on early in the movie, such as Jane throwing ghost money during the first band practice scene – a common practice at Chthonic concerts in Taiwan, for fans to show appreciation.

In line with the band’s dedication to preserving Taiwanese culture, the movie is primarily in Taiwanese – indeed A-tek speaks only Taiwanese and English the entire film, with a few broken bits of Japanese thrown in. But non-native viewers need not worry, as the subtitles, both English and Chinese, are beautifully translated.

The movie is primarily in Taiwanese – and dialect puns abound. Their latest trailer ends playing off the homophone of tsah-zui, ‘to interrupt’ and ‘wipe your mouth’ with Yeh telling off A-tek and Lim berating keyboardist CJ.

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Credit: TSHIONG movie
‘If you have issues pray to god, don’t come looking for Chthonic’.

When questioned as to why they decided on a comedy, Lim replied it is just an amalgamation of band banter. “We usually think we are pretty funny,” he says. “We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could put all of that on screen?”

The film is directed by Wen-tang Cheng (郑文堂), who has achieved international acclaim for his documentaries and films. This is his first comedy.

In terms of cinematography, Illustrations and sound effects crowd the screen, adding a comic-book quality to the movie – a nod to popular understanding that Lim, and indeed many metalheads, are in fact huge nerds.

The biggest draw, perhaps, for the the band’s international fans, is the inclusion of metal juggernaut Randy Blythe, vocalist for American heavy metal band Lamb of God. The singer makes a cameo in the trailer. And his role? "I was in a riot, I got beat up by the cops, I ran from the cops."

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Credit: TSHIONG movie
'You’re the foreigner!' Blythe’s poster, released early December.

And just how did an American singer get involved in a political comedy? Blythe became friends with the band when they were touring together for Ozzfest in 2007, and has performed with them in Taiwan, as well as spent time on the island on vacation.

In an an interview with EMP Rock Nation in 2015, Blythe says "Freddy [...] e-mailed me one day, and he was just, like, 'Hey, man. We're making an action movie. Do you wanna be in it?' And I'm, like, 'Yeah.' I didn't ask him what it was about or anything. I'm just, like, 'Yeah. Yeah, I do.' I mean, I obviously didn't do it for the money — I didn't make much money — but I did it 'cause it's awesome to be in a kung fu movie."

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Credit: TSHIONG movie
'To eat…or to fight?' Keyboardist CJ is known for his appetite.

To be honest, there isn’t much kung fu, just lots of good old-fashioned brawling, and the occasional wired flip. But the true attraction lies not in action, but the movie's its touching nature. You don’t need to know who or what Chthonic is to appreciate the age-old theme of saving one’s hometown from invasive commercial interest.

The film certainly has all the characteristics of a cult classic in the making. The simple backstory make it easy to follow for the uninitiated, and its comedic nature keeps viewers entertained whether or not they can catch every joke, pun, or allusion.

But it’s not all fun and games, the movie is having distribution difficulties in Taiwan; some of the major theaters will not touch it due to its unflinching political stance, but the movie is set to be screened in about 30 or so cinemas around the country. Independent venues are welcome to apply for screenings through a form on the Facebook page.

The film will open at the Kaohsiung Film Festival and elsewhere in Taiwan Dec. 29.


TNL editor: David Green

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