In Competition for the White Mulberry Award for First Time Director
查無此心 (Cha Wu Ci Xin)
Taiwan, 2022, 128’, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Thai
Directed by: Tseng Ying-ting
Screenplay: Yang Yi-chien, Lin Pin-chun, Hsu Shih-hui, Tseng Ying-ting
Photography (color): Stanley Liu, Liu Chen-wei
Editing: Liao Ching-song, Lee Chun-hong
Production Designer: Yeh Tzu-wei
Music: Yang Wen-qian
Producers: Tang Tsai-yang, Ning Chang
Cast: Ning Chang (Wu Jie), Ethan Juan (You-sheng), Chloe Xiang (Wilson), Sajee Apiwon (Saipin), Chen Wei-min (Captain Tseng), Frankie Huang (Dong-qi), Yu An-shun (Fan)
Date of First Release in Territory: TBA
Over the past decade, Taiwan has seen an influx of migrant workers from Southeast Asia fill the void left in blue-collar work due to an ageing population. Today, there are about 700,000 migrant workers in Taiwan, making up roughly 3% of the population. While The Abandoned isn’t exactly about the plight of migrant workers in Taiwan, it instead uses the murder of a migrant to expose people who exploit them.
When we first meet detective Wu Jie (Ning Chang), she is sitting inside a car parked by a river, about to commit suicide. Her attempt is foiled by a group of teenagers who have discovered the literally heartless corpse of a Southeast Asian woman washed ashore. Putting her personal turmoil aside, Wu Jie throws herself into tracing the identity of the mystery corpse and the murderer. Meanwhile, You-sheng (Ethan Juan), a shady broker who arranges work for illegal migrant workers, buries the corpse of another migrant worker without knowing the similarities it shares with the first corpse. Is a serial killer on the loose? Is You-sheng connected to the first murder?
Despite the beautiful noir-like atmosphere crafted by a Golden Horse-nominated production design team and cinematographers Stanley Liu and Liu Chen-wei, it’s hard to categorise The Abandoned as a serial killer thriller because director Tseng Ying-ting and his co-writers don’t follow the beats of a typical serial killer film. Instead of obsessing over the murderer’s methods, the film spends considerable time exploring the psychological state of its protagonists – namely Wu Jie and You-sheng – as they deal with the ugly truths behind the case. The “abandoned” in the film’s title refers to more than just the two dead women; nearly every main character in the film is reeling from abandonment trauma, giving the film real emotional weight.
That leaves star Ning Chang to do most of the heavy lifting. Also working as producer for the first time, Chang gives her best performance yet by fully committing into this complex role of the traumatised detective. In one of his best roles since his breakout performance in Monga, Ethan Juan gives off just the right balance as the morally ambiguous migrant broker who is trying to hide his personal stakes in the case. Young Chloe Xiang also shows a great deal of promise as Wu Jie’s unlikely sidekick, easily the film’s more likeable character.
The Abandoned is not the first Taiwanese film this year to use a genre film to examine social issues (see Marry My Dead Body). In fact, it’s not even director Tseng Ying-ting’s first film to deal with stories of migrant workers in Taiwan (that would be his award-winning TV film Ye-zai). However, it does stand out by not trapping itself within genre borders. Before it finally becomes a police procedural in the second half, the film dares to take its time to embrace quiet moments and flesh out its characters. It dares to be a genre film that also tackles important social issues and a marginalised population in society. Audiences may go into The Abandoned expecting blood and thrills, but the stakes of this cat-and-mouse game are even higher than it first appears.
Tseng worked as an assistant director and behind-the-scenes cameraman before entering film school. In 2012, his TV film Ye-zai, produced for Taiwan’s Public Television Service, won Best Fiction Short at the Golden Harvest Award. His 2016 TV film The Cat in the Closet was nominated for Best Narrative Feature at the Taipei Film Awards. The Abandoned is his first theatrical feature film.
2022 – The Abandoned