Old Fox

European Premiere| In Competition

 

Guest star:
HSIAO Ya-chuan, director


At one point in Old Fox, the morally conflicted young protagonist repeats the phrase “none of my damn business.” It’s rare to see a script that is able to so concisely sum up its main conflict in a single line. The winner of four awards at last year’s Golden Horse Awards, including Best Director, Hsiao Ya-chuan’s Old Fox brilliantly asks an age-old question about the role of empathy in our society: Why should other people be any of our damn business? Hsiao’s fourth feature film is a captivating and powerful morality play told from the perspective of a child standing at a crossroads in life. The year is 1989, the year when Taiwan had an unprecedented economic boom that saw its stock index grow exponentially.

While their neighbour is making huge gains from the stock market, 11-year-old Liao Jie (child star Bai Run-yin, from Dear Tenant) and his single father, restaurant manager Liao Tai-lai (Liu Kuan-ting), live a modest life while saving up every cent possible to buy a dream home of their own.

The man who can make all that happen is Boss Xie (Akio Chen), the neighbourhood landlord whose nickname “Old Fox” is all you need to know about his nature. Meeting Liao Jie in a chance encounter, Boss Xie sees the kid’s resemblance to himself as a child and takes the boy under his wing, teaching the boy that ruthlessness and winning at all costs are the true paths to success. Suddenly, Liao Jie finds himself no longer looking up to his kind, sympathetic father, but rather the cunning pragmatist who literally holds the power to make his dream come true.

Hsiao’s biggest strength as a filmmaker has always been in character-based storytelling.

This is apparent in the triangular character dynamic at the core of Old Fox. We know that the moral thing to do for Liao Jie is to choose his father’s kindness over Boss Xie’s Machiavellian ways. Yet, Hsiao’s world-building is so intricate and convincing that the pragmatist in us will think for a second that maybe Liao Jie should choose the way of the opportunist to get ahead.

Of course, Liao Jie’s dilemma is made all the more convincing by the actors. Already with several leading performances under his belt at just 13 years old, Bai Run-yin has shown himself to be the best child actor working in Taiwanese cinema. Proving that he can do drama and comedy equally well, Liu Kuan-ting evokes sympathy as a hardworking single father trying his best to stay kind in a cruel world. As Boss Xie’s tough, but fair subordinate, Eugenie Liu (mon mon mon MONSTERS) rightfully earned her Golden Horse nomination in her best dramatic performance yet.

But the biggest standout in this exceptional cast is veteran writer-actor Akio Chen.

Instead of playing Boss Xie like a one-dimensional villain, Chen brings much-needed depth to the complicated character. Chen relishes in playing up Xie’s slimier aspects, but he also shows the vulnerability needed when the film hints how he went from the son of a trash collector to a hardened, ruthless capitalist.

While thinking about the film, I remember all the times I found myself standing between doing the “moral” thing or the selfish thing that would benefit only myself. Considering all the times we saw this age-old debate unfold during the Covid pandemic, Old Fox should be easier to relate to than it appears on the surface. However, like a perfectly-flavoured cherry on top, the film’s coda suggests that we may all need a little bit of Boss Xie in us to accomplish the right things.

Kevin Ma
Film director: HSIAO Ya-chuan
Year: 2023
Running time: 112'
Country: Taiwan
29/04 - 7:15 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
29-04-2024 19:15 29-04-2024 21:07Europe/Rome Old Fox Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org
Online in Italy until the end of the Festival

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