The Taiwanese pandemic shocker THE SADNESS benefited from loud word of mouth about its brutality. But even if violence plays a central role here, the film is remembered primarily for its strong atmosphere. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Ku bei (TWN 2021)
After a year of fighting the pandemic, the frustrated Taiwanese population is increasingly disregarding the government’s health precautions. The perfect time for the previously harmless Alvin virus to mutate and rage across the country as an unstoppable plague. Anyone who becomes infected feels compelled to do the most cruel things: murder, torture and mutilation are just the beginning. A young couple is pushed to the limits of their strength as they try to find each other in the midst of chaos. Madness and violence dominate the streets – the time of civilization and order is over.
If a film attracts attention in 2021 with the first audience and press reviews with superlatives à la “The most brutal (zombie) film of all time” throw around, it creates curiosity and skepticism at the same time. For curiosity, because that’s exactly what has already been said about many films before. A project that goes one step further on everything we’ve seen so far? Interesting! But also for skepticism, because not all films could live up to these superlatives. And so much in advance: The Taiwanese pandemic shocker “The Sadness” – since the bloodthirsty murder machines are not really undead, the term “zombie” in connection with the film can be hotly debated – is probably not the most brutal thing ever captured on film. Feature debutant and writer Rob Jabbaz too often has the decency to fade out during the really violent scenes and leave the peaks of violence to the imagination of his audience. But especially compared to mainstream horror, “The Sadness” has moments that you have to be prepared for, even as a passionate genre fan. It’s understandable that the project attracted attention primarily because of its level of violence – but it’s a shame.
Corpses are piling up on the streets…
Releasing a film in a global pandemic that also deals with a pandemic and also harshly criticizes the (political and social) handling of the situation can only be understood as a commentary on the current situation. In the case of “The Sadness” it’s almost ironic. Because the story, which was filmed in Taiwan and also takes place there – at least in an “alternative Taiwan” – takes as its target a country that is known for its very professional handling of the Corona crisis. “The Sadness” should therefore be understood as a global attack on carelessness in such an exceptional situation. And as such, it works surprisingly well as a kind of bloodthirsty, completely unironic counterpart to Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up. After all that we have witnessed in terms of ignorant behavior towards Corona over the past two years on social networks, but also in real life, the scenes in “The Sadness” that hit us to the core are those that are also one-to-one with us environment could take place. For example, when, despite all the warnings, fast-food restaurants are filled to the rafters with visitors, or when, in the face of the catastrophe, a man is still firmly convinced that the measures recommended by the government are pure scaremongering. But above all, the bright red disaster warning that suddenly appears on all Taiwanese TV channels burns into your brain when you realize that we ourselves may have narrowly escaped such a situation.
“’The Sadness’ should be understood as a global attack on carelessness in such an exceptional situation. And as such, it works surprisingly well as a kind of bloodthirsty, completely unironic counterpart to Adam McKay’s satire ‘Don’t Look Up.’
Although you know from the beginning that “The Sadness” is going to be a pretty wild, bloodthirsty (zombie) film ride, so from the first scene you are just waiting for the carnage to start, the protagonist couple Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei) establish the beginning of the film atmospherically. Although we only find out rudimentarily about the harmony and problems within this relationship, the two of them are sure to have sympathies within a few minutes. Their interaction is loving, especially thanks to the strong playing of the two. And at the latest when they part ways, one hopes that they can somehow find each other again in this chaos. And if only for the sake of it together to face approaching death. At the same time, Rob Jabbaz’s production temporarily pushes this hope and fear for the main characters into the background when the bestial escapism of murder, rape and torture breaks out. This is happening for the first time in a snack bar. It only takes a few seconds from the entry of an infected person (in the film he is basically “patient zero”) to the first massacre, which immediately shows you the extent of the virus and, above all, the type of violence that Jabbaz is unleashing here . With the help of excellent trick effects, he makes the numerous extras endure the worst torture. In view of the creativity that some infected people show in order to live out their inner urges, which are now suddenly potentiated a thousand-fold, splitting the skull or severing the carotid artery become trivial side notes.
Jim (Berant Zhu), overwhelmed by events, just wants to be with his girlfriend. Will he succeed?
Now it’s almost morbid to claim that “The Sadness” is entertaining precisely because of this creativity in its depiction of violence. But similar to the “Final Destination” or – even more brutal – the “Saw” series, this candidate is ultimately nothing other than a series of bizarre killing methods, which in the context of the mostly very high tempo makes for a remarkable amount of entertainment. Nevertheless, the setting or premise as well as the type of brutality differ massively from the genre contributions mentioned above. “The Sadness” is imbued with an oppressive, dramatic atmosphere. Of dirt and grime, of disgust and fear of death; reinforced by the intimate focus on the two main characters, through whose eyes we perceive the escalation of violence. Emotional distancing is difficult. A terminally ill madman who builds torture traps (which can hardly be financed out of his own pocket) in order to test his victims’ will to live is at least as exaggerated as the idea of watching death itself strike. “The Sadness”, on the other hand, spins a very realistic pandemic situation and turns ordinary citizens into terrorist beasts who, due to the way the virus works, don’t just want to kill, but rather feel satisfaction in the exercise of violence. Incidentally, this also earned the film harsh criticism. For example, due to the question of whether it is absolutely necessary to show how an already severely abused woman has to be raped through her eyes (!).
“’The Sadness’ is imbued with an oppressive, dramatic atmosphere. Of dirt and grime, of disgust and fear of death; reinforced by the intimate focus on the two main characters, through whose eyes we perceive the escalation of violence.
However, this very scene is also a good example of Rob Jabbaz not everything shows. Instead, after hinting at this atrocity, cameraman Jie-Li Bai pans to the perpetrator’s face and captures his perverse satisfaction. By the way, something that can be criticized very well. Scenes of abuse in particular are often accused of exploiting the whole thing for voyeuristic reasons. However, by focusing on the face of the perpetrator, “The Sadness” does not do justice to this accusation; Especially since the camera never zooms out and shows the full extent of this crime. Instead, disgust for the man dominates, whose actor Tzu-Chiang Wang does his job as a kind of “recurring final boss” excellently in the most unpleasant way possible. In particular, its antagonist, who is driven less by violence than by lust, is the personified illustration of the fact that “The Sadness” also repeatedly allows itself repulsive (everyday) observations about sexism and misogyny. Unfortunately, they may occasionally get lost in the bloodlust, which sometimes seems cartoonish (and thus undermines the seriousness of the overall production). Overall, the film still impresses with its abnormally entertaining mix of biting social criticism, intense pandemic drama and ultra-brutal splatter inferno.
Conclusion: “The Sadness” may not be the most violent film of all time, but director Rob Jabbaz takes no prisoners with his splatter shocker. What is shown here is sometimes difficult to bear, but it has a surprising amount of substance as a social commentary on ignorant pandemic politics and misogyny and is damn atmospheric (almost) until the end. Only the numerous explanations in the last act were not absolutely necessary.
“The Sadness” can be seen uncut in USA cinemas from February 3, 2022.