TIFF 2021: ‘Terrorizers’ Is an Exceptional Web of Genres and Social Commentary

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Terrorizers

Screening at TIFF 2021, Ho Wi Ding’s Terrorizers is an engaging web of stories that deliver the goods in the dramatic, thriller, and romantic departments while forging a powerful commentary on the role of pornography and gaming in the proliferation of violence and misogynistic ideas.

Yu Fang (Moon Lee) is an actress working at a cafe shop whose quiet personality comes from a sense of abandonment. Her mother left her when she was a child, and her politician father is about to do the same by moving to a different country. However, some hope comes in the form of Xiao Zhang (J.C. Lin), a handsome dishwasher dreaming of opening his own restaurant and who quickly falls in love with her.  

After flowers and a very romantic stroll through the rain, they start to plan to live together. By playing Chopin’s Nocturne op.9 through a romantic montage between the two lovebirds, Ho Wi Ding induces us into a false sense of security that is abruptly broken by the unsettling look of a man with a katana running full speed toward Yu right in the middle of a train station. At the last second, however, Xiao sacrifices himself to save Yu.

This tremendous introduction is just the appetizer of Terrorizers because, up next, Ho Wi Ding interweaves the story of four people, including Xiao and Yu, in a Roshomon type of narrative that masterfully plays with time and characters to learn how we got to the slashing incident. Yet to meet are Ming Liang (Po-Hung Lin), a creepy gamer with rich parents who lives in the same apartment as Yu, and Monica (Annie Chen), an actress and Yu’s best friend desperate to find stable work as her debts keep piling up. Monica is haunted by porn videos she shot in her past. Important in the story, too, is Kiki (Pipi Yao), a cosplayer who works with Xiao and is in love with Ming Liang. 

These characters might not know each other very well, but they are all interconnected in some way. The exploration of these links is highly engaging as Ho Wi Ding keeps you guessing with clues, remarkable character development, and tense scenes. However, you soon find out that many pieces are missing in the introductory 20 minutes. The film suggests one thing, then reveals a whole different scenario or motivation. It’s an engaging narrative achieved through excellent editing and a fully engaging pace.

All of these characters feel isolated in different ways, but Ming Liang uses the escapism of technology to comfort himself. He plays violent virtual reality games and watches pornography to try to find a connection with something or someone. This, combined with his personality traits and ease at which he can get anything he desires from his father, creates an unsettling behavior. So when he accidentally bumps into Monica, a woman who he’s seen on a porn website before, he starts to follow her and spy on her private life, and by extension, on Yu’s private life too. 

Ming Liang lives and sees himself as the master of his own reality now. Due to his heavy use of pornography, he believes he can control any woman, and he believes he can control any scenario due to gaming. It’s important to note that Ho Wi Ding isn’t criticizing video games per se; he implies that its unchecked combination with violent personality traits and other types of media can induce a man into false scenarios. In this case, Ming Liang believes he has the right to control Monica because he has seen her perform in a porn video. In his head, he has established a connection with Monica while watching her videos. He now calls himself “his girlfriend” and will do anything to protect her. But just like the entire pornography industry, it’s all a lie. 

The misogynistic ideas of Terrorizers are expanded through other characters and interactions. This pattern of men naming themselves “boyfriends” of women just because they interacted with them is seen again later in the film. Female characters are assaulted and put into highly uncomfortable situations that directly result from men thinking that they can own them. And circling the problem is the media whose reinforcement of this violent culture is explored in the last half hour. 

Terrorizers is a brilliant film that gets better as it sits on your mind. With the help of all-around superb performances by his cast and an unpredictable script, Ho Wi Ding wants us to question the consequences of partial-picture victimization, as well as reflect on the dangerous psychological impact of pornography on society.

Terrorizers screened as part of the Contemporary World Cinema program of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Terrorizers
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Terrorizers is a brilliant film that gets better as it sits on your mind. With the help of all-around superb performances by his cast and an unpredictable script, Ho Wi Ding wants us to question the consequences of partial-picture victimization, as well as reflect on the dangerous psychological impact of pornography on society.