TIFF 2021 review: Terrorizers (Wi Ding Ho)

“Terrorizers may share almost exactly the same English title, setting, and thematic concerns (urban alienation, loneliness, and voyeurism) as Edward Yang’s 1986 masterpiece, but Ho’s film is ultimately an entertaining but completely hollow shell of a thriller.”

There are three major characters in Wi Ding Ho’s Terrorizers: Yu Fang, Ming Liang, and Monica. Yu Fang is a café waitress with abandonment issues. Her mother left her when she was a kid, and her stoic father, a local politician, is moving to another city with his new wife. When Yu Fang is not waiting tables, she does community theatre. During a stage production Yu Fang befriends and eventually falls for Monica, a young, beautiful actress who is scrambling for her big break. When Monica is not rehearsing for the stage production, she is auditioning for low-budget films and avoiding eviction. Ming Liang lives in the same apartment complex as Yu Fang and eventually crosses paths with Yu Fang and Monica. He becomes particularly taken with Monica, whom he recognizes from a porn film he likes to watch on a virtual reality device.

The paths of Yu Fang, Ming Liang, and Monica collide head-on when Ming Liang attacks Yu Fang with a sword at a shopping mall. Yu Fang’s new boyfriend, Xiao Zhang, comes to her rescue and ends up getting badly wounded. After being captured on surveillance camera, Ming Liang turns himself in to the police. In what is a complete fabrication, he tells the cops that Yu Fang is his ex-girlfriend and submits filmed smartphone footage of Yu Fang and Monica consummating their relationship. Yu Fang’s life is ruined; her father’s political career is on the line, and her budding relationship with Xiao Zhang is now on life support.

Although Terrorizers is an easy watch, almost everything about the film is forgettable. Split in two halves and unravelling in a nonlinear fashion (the main events of the film move forward in time, then backwards, and then forward again), Terrorizers is a film in search of itself, that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Does it want to be a portrait of a young couple negatively impacted by a public scandal? Or does it want to be an exposé on the shortcomings of cyberspace and conservative Confucian attitudes about sex? The themes are barely explored by Ho, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film lacks cohesion and dramatic gravitas. There is no central character or steady thread in which to explore such philosophical questions. There are only isolated characters (Yu Fang, Ming Liang, and Monica) whose lives intersect, culminating in a resolution that only inspires indifference.

Terrorizers may share almost exactly the same English title, setting, and thematic concerns (urban alienation, loneliness, and voyeurism) as Edward Yang’s 1986 masterpiece, but Ho’s film is ultimately an entertaining but completely hollow shell of a thriller.

Terrorizers (Wi Ding Ho)