The Woman of Wrath

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Late at night, young fatherless Lin Shih witnesses her mother killing herself with a knife in the ancestral shrine as she is rebuked by the elder relatives for selling her body to support her daughter. Orphaned Lin Shih is then taken in by her uncle and his wife.

When Lin Shih grows up, she obeys her uncle, marrying a butcher called Chiang-shui. It turns out that Chiang-shui treats Lin Shih merely as a tool for satisfying his sexual needs and a property he owns. The brutality Lin Shih suffers on the wedding night and the bowl of pork rice served afterward symbolize that Lin Shih’s body and survival rights are controlled by Chiang-shui. Subsequently, the abusive marriage, the gossip circulating in the village and the childhood memories slowly drive Lin Shih to a nervous breakdown.

One day while Chiang-shui is fast asleep, Lin Shih kills him with the knife that he uses to slaughter pigs.

Adapted from The Butcher’s Wife, a United Daily News Literary Prize-winning novella by Li Ang, The Woman of Wrath was released in 1984. The film not only shows Li Ang’s concern for the Taiwanese lower classes but embodies the issues such as sex, hunger, and power dynamics investigated in the novella. The slogan on the poster conveys how the film was perceived in Taiwanese society in the 1980s – “A controversial and shocking movie.” The story was first published as a serial in the newspaper and won the award before being turned into a book and adapted for the screen. In fact, its daring writing strategy made the work highly anticipated throughout the process. Eventually, the most talented filmmakers at that time, including scriptwriter Wu Nien-jen, director Tseng Chuang-hsiang, assistant directors Peggy Chiao and Jiing Yng-Ruey, and director of photography Chang Chao-tang joined the production. Even before the shooting began, the casting attracted much attention from the media and a lot more after the film was released. As the novella keeps being translated into different languages, academic discussions on the film have continued till now.

Adapted from the novella by Li Ang, and brought to the screen by screenwriter Wu Nien-jen and director Tseng Chuang-hsiang, The Woman of Wrath presents a departure from the original work with its stark and restrained approach. It stands as one of the unorthodox adaptations in the Taiwanese New Cinema movement, focusing on the tribulations of women in a conservative society. The story zeroes in on a traditional wife struggling through repeated physical and emotional abuse, where living becomes a burden. The film opens with black-and-white memories, hinting at the hunger and void of both a physical and spiritual nature, followed by several sex scenes that, without showing full bodies, depict unidirectional and emotionless encounters, showcasing the suppression under violence. This twisted realm of values insinuates the debasement of women as seductresses born with original sin, climaxing in the assassination of the man.

The director’s pursuit of restraint in visual storytelling is crisp yet suffused with a distorted suppression. By significantly toning down conflicts and climactic impacts, the film paradoxically becomes absurd and satirical, eliciting mixed feelings. Cinematographer Chang Chao-tang transforms mundane realities into visuals rich with tension through his composition, creating an atmosphere interwoven with strangeness and fluctuation, secrecy, and enigma. Thus, the hidden significance of “sex” in The Woman of Wrath transcends mere eroticism and violence to lament for those at the bottom of society and a rebellion against the spirit of life itself.

Sean Lee
Film director: TSENG Chuang-hsiang
Year: 1984
Running time: 100'
Country: Taiwan
01/05 - 7:45 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
01-05-2024 19:45 01-05-2024 21:25Europe/Rome The Woman of Wrath Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine