Review: ‘Terrorizers,’ starring Austin Lin, Moon Lee, JC Lin, Annie Chen, Ding Ning, Yao Ai Ning and Tang Chih Wei

September 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Yao Ai Ning and Austin Lin in “Terrorizers” (Photo courtesy of Changhe Films)


Directed by Wi Ding Ho

Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Taipei City, Taiwan, the drama “Terrorizers” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four people in their 20s are involved in a dangerous love quadrangle.

Culture Audience: “Terrorizers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in compelling thrillers about emotionally damaged people and love complications.

Annie Chen in “Terrorizers” (Photo courtesy of Changhe Films)

Becoming obsessed with an unrequited love has been the topic of many stories, but the dramatic thriller “Terrorizers” (written and directed by Wi Ding Ho) takes the unusual step of presenting the fallout of this obsession from the perspectives of four people who are involved in a love quadrangle. The four people—who are all in their 20s and live in the Taiwan capital of Taipei City—are affected in one way or another by this obsession, which has become violent when one of the people in this love quadrangle goes on a public rampage and uses a samurai sword to attack.

The four people who are at the center of this complex relationship drama are:

  • Ming Liang (played by Austin Lin), a troubled loner who comes from a wealthy family and who is addicted to video games.
  • Yu Fang (played by Moon Lee), a shy café worker/aspiring actress who has abandonment issues stemming from her parents’ divorce, including an absentee mother and a politician father who neglects Yu Fang.
  • Xiao Zhang (played by JC Lin), a romantic aspiring chef/restaurateur who currently works as a low-paid cook in a fast-food restaurant.
  • Monica (played by Annie Chen), an ambitious aspiring actress whose past job as a pornographic “cam girl” continues to haunt her.

It’s revealed in the movie’s trailer and early on in the movie that Ming Liang is the one who goes on the samurai sword rampage. He dresses up as a hooded ninja and then instigates the vicious attack at a shopping mall. Most of “Terrorizers” shows what led up to this violent crime. “Terrorizers” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

It would be giving away too much information to say who ends up getting romantically involved in this story. However, it’s enough to say that this quadrangle includes bisexuality/queerness and at least one person who’s dating two people at the same time. Some of the scenes in the movie are repeated, but shown from the angle of a different person in the quadrangle. Each person in the quadrangle has a unique personality and psychology, which explain many of their decisions and reactions in this story.

A revealing scene with Ming Liang and his disappointed father shows that Ming Liang has a long history of anti-social rebellion. Whenever Ming Liang got in trouble in school, his father bought his way out of that trouble. Ming Liang’s parents are divorced, and it’s mentioned that Ming Liang’s mother is an alcoholic whom he hasn’t seen in years. Ming Liang is unemployed and spends much of his time alone playing video games or riding his bicycle through the city. He also has a nasty habit of being a voyeur/Peeping Tom.

Yu Fang and Monica are in a theater group together. Yu Fang is more talented than Monica, but Monica gets more auditions because she’s better-looking and more assertive than Yu Fang. Monica has used her good looks to her advantage, and she’s become accustomed to having men pay for her expenses. She often gets sexually propositioned by men who expect her to do something sexual with them in order for them to do her a favor. Monica is more than willing to consent and go along with it if she thinks what she’ll get in return is worthwhile.

However, there’s a down side to Monica relying too much on her physical appearance to have men financially support her or do other favors for her. For example, Monica recently had a nasty breakup with a live-in boyfriend named David (played by Shang Ho Huang), a photographer whose specialty is taking nude photos of women and filming women for amateur porn videos. Monica found out that David was cheating on her, so she broke up with him.

David was paying all of Monica’s living expenses. But now that they’ve broken up, she has to move out of the apartment that they shared (the apartment is in his name) and find a new place to live. The problem is that Monica is broke and doesn’t have a place where she can go. Monica apparently doesn’t have any close friends or family members who can help her.

Monica has another problem: Not that long ago, David convinced Monica to make a sex video with him when she was working as a “cam girl” under the alias Missy. The video was uploaded and sold as part of the Monica’s cam girl work. And apparently, a lot of people in the entertainment industry have seen this video, because whenever she goes on auditions, the people interviewing her (who all happen to be men) mention her Missy sex video.

Monica usually doesn’t deny that she made the video, but she seems very embarrassed every time someone mentions it to her. She always tries to change the subject when her past pornography is brought up in a conversation. And she makes it clear to anyone who talks about the video that she’s no longer doing any porn or any “cam girl” work. She wants to be taken seriously as an actress.

In contrast to Monica getting a lot of attention from men, Yu Fang feels neglected by men, specifically her father Guo (played by Tang Chih Wei), who has put his politician career above being an attentive parent. Near the beginning of the movie, Yu Fang is trying not to get depressed because she feels she’s being “abandoned” by a loved one again. She’s been living with Guo, but he’s decided to move back to his hometown of Yilan City, because he thinks it will help his current political campaign.

Guo has also gotten married to his much-younger second wife Mandy (played by Celia Chang), who is Guo’s administrative assistant and who is currently pregnant with their first child together. Guo and Mandy’s wedding is shown in the movie. The house where Yu Fang lived with her father has been sold, and time is running out for Yu Fang to get a new place to live. Yu Fang wants to stay in Taipei City because she loves being in her theater group, which is where all of her friends are.

Yu Fang has been delaying finding a new place as long as possible, but her father offers to help pay her expenses. Guo asks Yu Fang if she would consider a roommate when she finds a new place to live. And he knows someone who might be an ideal roommate because he’s the son of someone who is one of Guo’s richest donors. The name of this son is Ming Liang. Yu Fang doesn’t really like the idea because she doesn’t know Ming Liang very well.

Meanwhile, Xiao Zhang is a friendly person who’s had a secret crush on Yu Fang. He recently quit his job as a cook on a ship because life at sea got too lonely for him, and he’s ready to settle down and start a family. The fast-food restaurant where he works is owned by a couple named Mr. Yang (played by Liao Chin Liang) and Mrs. Yang (played by Huang Jie Fei), whose rebellious, cosplaying 16-year-old daughter Kiki (played by Yao Ai Ning) also works in the restaurant.

Xiao Zhang lives with his Uncle Wong (played by Yong Yi Jyun), who owns his own barber shop. Xiao Zhang and Uncle Wong live in an apartment that is directly across from another building’s apartment, where a middle-aged alcoholic masseuse named Lady Hsia (played by Ding Ning) lives and works out of her home. Lady Hsia is not Ming Liang’s mother, in case anyone thinks that’s a plot twist in the movie. However, one of the people in this relationship quadrangle ends up getting to know Lady Hsia and turns to her for emotional support.

There are parts of “Terrorizers” that resemble a soap opera, but in the best possible ways. The twist and turns to the story are intriguing, with some plot developments being less predictable than others. The only part in the movie that seems too over-the-top in its melodrama is a scene that takes place with Ming Liang and someone at a train station. But the scene could be justified as a way of showing how much Ming Liang’s mental health is deteriorating.

“Terrorizers” writer/director Wi Ding Ho knows how to adeptly bring suspense to the story, which is intended to show how one person’s actions can have ripple effects not just on those closest to that person but also to complete strangers. All of the actors give credible performances, although viewers might have different opinions on which of the four storylines is the most gripping. “Terrorizers” is ultimately a very memorable film about how people choose different ways to seek out love, cope with emotional trauma, and deal with rejection.

Review: ‘Nina Wu,’ starring Ke-Xi Wu

March 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ke-Xi Wu in “Nina Wu” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Nina Wu”

Directed by Midi Z

Taiwanese and Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Taiwan, the dramatic film “Nina Wu” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An unknown actress gets her big break with a starring role in a movie, but she has to cope with sexual predators in the industry and secrets in her personal life.

Culture Audience: “Nina Wu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stylish-looking arthouse movies that are character studies with unsettling subject matter.

Ke-Xi Wu and Hsia Yu-Chiao in “Nina Wu” (Photo courtesy of Film Movement)

“Nina Wu” is an artistically filmed movie-within-a-movie story that takes an unflinching and often-disturbing look at the compromises and indignities that entertainers, particularly women, experience in their quest for fame. The movie tells the story of Nina Wu (played by Ke-Xi Wu), a struggling actress in Taiwan who gets a big break by landing her first starring role in a feature film. But she has to confront what this role will cost her when she finds out that it comes with a heavy price to her dignity and self-worth.

Ke-Xi Wu co-wrote the screenplay of “Nina Wu” with the movie’s director Midi Z, and she says the story is inspired by some of her real-life experiences. She gives a very compelling performance in this movie, which contrasts its beautifully styled aesthetic with the ugly truths of what often goes on behind the scenes in showbiz. The movie tends to be a little jumbled in story structure, but the message behind the film is clear.

Nina’s backstory comes out in bits and pieces in flashbacks and other descriptions. Viewers will have to be comfortable with movies that play out in a non-linear manner. Nina is an aspiring actress who moved from a suburban area to the big capital city of Taipei. Her father (played by Cheng Ping-Chun) runs a factory in Taiwan. And she was discovered by a talent agent when she working at a market stall.

However, Nina’s life as an actress isn’t go so well for her in Taipei. In the movie, Nina (who also goes by the name Sufen) works as a cam girl to pay her bills. Nina has been hiding her struggles as an actress from her family and other people she knows in her hometown. As far as they know, she’s been getting respectable work as a small-time actress and is living a pretty good life in Taipei.

In a meeting with her agent (played by Rexen Cheng), who’s been working with Nina for the past six years, he reminds her that she hasn’t been in a feature film the entire time that he’s worked with her. She has only been in short films. However, the agent (who doesn’t have a name in the movie) tells Nina that he’s gotten an offer to audition for a starring role in a feature film (a spy thriller set in the 1960s) where she would be required to do explicit sex scenes. It’s not a pornographic film, but it’s a movie where there’s little left to the imagination when it comes to sex.

Nina is hesitant to do the audition, but the agent says that any good actor wouldn’t turn down a role because of nudity. (What he doesn’t mention is the reality that women are much more likely than men to be required to have nude scenes in non-pornographic films.) The agent says that he will leave the decision up to Nina. And he tells her that big Hollywood stars take a role for two reasons: It’s a good character or it’s good pay.

Nina decides to audition for the role. And what she goes through in the rest of the story is an emotionally draining experience that also forces her to confront secrets that she’s denied or kept from other people in her life. During the audition process, she meets with a female casting director (played by Hsieh Ying-Hsuan), who tells Nina that Nina’s performance should be as natural as possible. By way of comparison, she asks Nina, “When you take a shower, do you worry about being naked?”

Nina then auditions for a panel of filmmakers. The casting director is the only woman in this group of decision makers. Nina gets the role, but that’s the easy part of making the film. Things get much harder for her when she has to work with the very demanding and sexist director (played by Shih Ming-Shuai), who doesn’t hesitate to be derogatory to her. Most of the characters in “Nina Wu” do not have names. It might be the “Nina Wu” filmmakers’ way of showing how these experiences are so common that they could apply to many people without specific names attached.

Nina’s starring role in the movie is as a woman in a troubled love affair that nearly drives her character to violence with a knife. She threatens to kill her lover and herself. The director is abusive in the name of getting the performance that he wants out of Nina. He chokes her to get her in an agitated mindset. In another incident, he slaps Nina.

Because the director is a highly acclaimed filmmaker in the industry, people on the movie set act as if Nina should feel lucky to work with him. And so, Nina starts to second-guess her discomfort at how she is being treated in this very male-dominated and demeaning work environment. Everyone around her acts like this physical abuse is “normal,” so Nina doesn’t complain about it. It’s also her very first feature film, and she doesn’t want to be perceived as a “difficult person,” which could ruin other career opportunities for her.

At a New Year’s dinner with her family (including her parents, aunts and uncles), they give a toast to Nina to congratulate her on the movie role and wish her success. But as Nina’s career seems to be taking off and she gets some media attention for being cast in the movie, she becomes more miserable inside. Nina’s movie is expected to be a critically acclaimed hit, but this possibility of becoming a famous actress doesn’t bring Nina the true happiness that she expected.

Nina doesn’t say it out loud, but she’s thinking about how her family might react when they find out about the explicit sex scenes that she has in the movie. And she wonders how this high-profile role might affect how she’s perceived in the entertainment industry. Will she be typecast as someone who does sexually explicit performances? Nina is also having nightmares that a woman is chasing her in a life-threatening way.

On the movie set for one of the sex scenes, the director says that the scene is supposed to convey the hopelessness of life. Far from being passionate, the scene is coldly and clinically choreographed. In a set-up for a threesome in the movie, Nina and two male actors pose in sexual positions to test the lighting and are told not to show any emotions while posing.

Instead of feeing like a glamorous movie star, Nina feels like an exploited piece of meat. Nina has no real friends in Taipei, so she turns to a longtime friend of hers named Kiki (played by Sung Yu-Hua, also known as Vivian Sung), a school teacher she knows from her hometown. Nina confides in Kiki about a dream that she had where Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman told Nina to hold on to a tree during a storm. And then, Kidman disappeared and Nina was washed away in the storm.

Kidman was probably in Nina’s dream because in real life, Kidman has done several nude/sex scenes in her career. Kidman is often named as an example of a highly respected and versatile actress who’s able to do big-budget studio films and edgier independent films. The storm in the dream is a metaphor for the inner turmoil that Nina feels about doing the sex scenes in the movie. And it’s a problematic situation where Kidman isn’t going to come to Nina’s rescue.

There’s something else that Nina has to come to terms with as she deals with her conflicted feelings about starring in this sexually explicit movie: Nina is a lesbian and she’s in love with Kiki. Nina’s family doesn’t know about her true sexuality. Ultimately, Nina has to decide if she wants to live openly as a lesbian and how she wants to handle her feelings for Kiki.

In the midst of these issues in her love life and career, Nina has to deal with some crises in her family. Her father’s factory has gone bankrupt and her mother (played by Wang Chuan) has a heart attack. Nina then visits her hometown to help her family during this difficult time. And it should come as no surprise that Nina sees Kiki again during this visit.

The movie-within-a-movie part of “Nina Wu” offers some chilling parallels to the character that Nina plays on screen and who she is off-screen. Both Nina and her on-screen character are tortured in some way by love and sexuality. “Nina Wu” takes a very dark turn toward the end of the film when it shows how women are often pitted against each other by rich and powerful men for their own perverse pleasures. Nina and some other actresses who were in a group of auditioners, including a woman identified in the credits by the name Girl No. 3 (played by Hsia Yu-Chiao), are abused in this sick and twisted game.

Not all the villains in the story are men, because the movie shows that some women can be just as complicit or active in sexual misconduct as men can be. However, within the realm of the entertainment industry, as depicted in “Nina Wu,” men tend to have the most money and power. What’s most haunting about the movie is that the sexual harassment and other degradation portrayed in the movie are all too-often what many desperate and vulnerable people experience in real life when predators abuse their power and exploit people who want to achieve their dreams.

Film Movement released “Nina Wu” in New York City on March 26, 2021. The movie’s release expands to more cinemas in U.S. cities and on digital and VOD on April 2, 2021. The DVD release date is May 18, 2021.

Aloft Taipei Beitou Hotel opens in Tawain

January 5, 2017

Aloft Taipei Beitou)
(Rendering courtesy of Aloft Taipei Beitou)

Aloft Taipei Beitou Hotel, the second Aloft hotel in Taipei, has opened at No. 1, Lane 300, Daye Road, Beitou District, Taipei City, Taiwan.  The hotel has public areas and 292 guest rooms that showcase the creations of local artists, integrating elements indigenous to Beitou. The modern, loft-inspired rooms and suites are equipped with SPG Keyless, a mobile check-in system where guests can utilize their mobile phones as room keys. Each room also has a walk-in shower, custom amenities by Bliss Spa,  free Wi-Fi, and a 43-inch LCD TV linked to a Plug & Play connectivity panel.

The hotel’s signature restaurant is Nook, which serves buffet-style breakfast and a la carte dishes and specialty items, and has a pet-friendly terrace offering water bowls and a special menu for guests’ furry friends. Another dining option is Re:fuelSM by Aloft, Aloft’s signature 24/7 grab-and-go venue.

For socializing, there is the Re:mixSM lounge on the ground floor. The space is covered with butterfly-wing styled wooden panel lighting to create the illusion of swirling in a valley of butterflies, celebrating Taiwan’s reputation as a kingdom of butterflies. A giant floor-to-ceiling pixel-like RGB LED wall imparts a futuristic look. Additionally, the Aloft brand’s signature W:XYZSM bar serves cocktails and beverages while offering the brand’s  Live at Aloft Hotels programming that showcases live acoustic performances by up-and-coming artists. Guests can further socialize over a game of pool or get a good workout at the Re:chargeSM gym, open 24/7.

The property also features three on-site Tactic meeting spaces that are equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment and free WiFi. The meeting spaces occupy 577 square feet of meeting facilities.

Nearby attractions include Beitou Thermal Valley, Beitou Hot Springs Museum,, Shihlin Night Market and Sakura Tunnel, which transforms into a pink paradise with the arrival of cherry blossoms in mid-February. Aloft Taipei Beitou is eight miles from Taipei Songshan Airport and 26 miles from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

To celebrate the opening, Aloft Taipei Beitou is offering a special package of TWD 3,600, which includes a one-night stay in a brand new Aloft guestroom, fast Internet access via wired or WiFi, one complimentary cocktail per stay, double Starpoints for every eligible spending during the stay for SPG members, and late check-out until 2 p.m. The opening package is effective until March 31, 2017, and subject to a 10 percent service charge and 5 percent tax.

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