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Is the Taiwanese Horror Film 'Incantation' Worth the Hype?

Is the Taiwanese Horror Film 'Incantation' Worth the Hype?

Too busy to get your daily dose of RADII? We got you every Tuesday with a summary of all the freshest takes on China’s youth culture in the last week.

  • We’ve switched to a new, easy-to-remember web address with an exciting INFINITE-SCROLL site experience.
  • Since hitting local cinemas in Taiwan in March 2022, the Taiwanese blockbuster Incantation has been highly anticipated by Chinese-speaking audiences worldwide. An unexpected plot twist in the film breaks down the fourth wall, but is it trying too hard to be clever?
  • Cactus Music Festival, which will take place in early October in the Southwest China metropolis of Chengdu, has received a wave of heated criticism for its steep increase in ticket prices.
  • Chinese milk tea chain HeyTea and Korean cosmetics brand 3CE Stylenanda have teamed up to launch a series of very pink drinks, merchandise, and pop-up spaces in three cities across China.
  • The performance art piece ‘Why Public Art’ featured 30 Hangzhou artists and directly involved shared bikes to highlight the issue of bike waste in China.

Intrigued? Keep scrolling, my friend.

Is Taiwanese Horror Film ‘Incantation’ Truly That Terrifying?

Since hitting local cinemas in Taiwan in March 2022, the Taiwanese blockbuster Incantation has been highly anticipated by Chinese-speaking audiences worldwide. The film, which quickly became the highest-grossing Taiwanese movie of the year and the highest-grossing Taiwanese horror film of all time, was released to a global audience on Netflix on July 8.

Directed by Kevin Ko, the film revolves around a series of curse-caused paranormal events experienced by protagonist Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) and her daughter Dodo (Huang Sin-ting).

The origin of the curse stems from a trip Ronan had made years earlier: While visiting a remote area in Yunnan province, she broke a religious taboo, but was unaware that the spell would affect her loved ones.

Years later, Ronan is reunited with her biological daughter — only then do supernatural and creepy events start to unfold.

Partially inspired by actual events, Incantation might ring familiar to those who remember a bizarre incident that took place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 2005: Claiming to be possessed by deities from Chinese folk religions, a family of six fed on feces and burned one another with incense to ‘expel the demons.’ The incident resulted in the tragic death of the family’s two daughters.

Mere days after Incantation’s Netflix release, almost 70,000 users on the Chinese review platform Douban had marked the film as ‘watched.’ An additional 84,000 individuals have added it to their watchlist.

But is the film really worth the hype?

Internationally renowned film maestro Jia Zhangke’s recent statements on China’s film industry resonated with many Chinese movie enthusiasts: The monopoly of leitmotif films in the Chinese entertainment industry, as has been the case in the past few years, is less than ideal.

A Q&A-style interview with the filmmaker, published on July 7, has been widely circulated on WeChat and garnered more than 10,000 reads (a high threshold for most WeChat articles).

In the article, Jia shares his observation of the Chinese film market since the start of the pandemic. While he acknowledges the pandemic’s harmful effects on the shrinking film industry, its diversity of titles, and international cultural exchanges, he also believes that some problems will persist long after the pandemic.

“Underneath the pandemic are other crises that the Chinese film [market] faces,” reads one of his answers to the interviewer.

Not only has the film industry been plagued by a monotonous prototype of successful films over the past years, but it also faces much uncertainty concerning the future of avant-garde, experimental, and arthouse films.

“To put it bluntly, nobody knows how long it takes for those [avant-garde] films to get a license,” explained the filmmaker. “This kind of certainty brings tremendous anxiety to the industry.”

  • Every year, China’s arthouse film fans make a pilgrimage to the FIRST film festival, which has borne witness to China’s fast-changing indie film landscape over the past decade.
  • From June 2 to 4, Chinese art director Tianzhuo Chen staged his latest show, Trance, at Kampnagel in Hamburg, Germany’s most prominent independent venue for performing arts.
  • On Tuesday, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu announced his retirement from professional competition in a press conference, putting an end to his 12-year-long career. The news made a splash on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, with many users mourning the athlete’s retirement.

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