I may never be able to eat dumplings again, oh who am I kidding I’ll still devour the suckers!
Written By: Pik Wah Li
Directed By: Fruit Chan
The best horror, the most affecting horror, can often be found in the absurd and the darkly comedic. To have a viewer laugh at something that should revolt them is a very effective way of making an impact on said viewer. The key is for the film in question to not present itself as a straight up comedy or a straight up horror, but as something in between. It is in those dark places, the nebulous spaces where nothing makes as much sense as it should, that the true horror and absurdity of the situation dawns on the viewer.
Such was the case with myself and Jiao Zi. Fruit Chan’s film isn’t entirely comedic nor is it completely in the realm of a horror film. No, Jiao Zi is in that nebulous space in between genres where it is not easily defined nor easily digested. You’ll have to pardon my choice of words, but in all honesty that was a joke too juicy to pass up. The humor in Jiao Zi is a lot like my last joke, except funny, in the sense that the humor in Jiao Zi is found in the exploitation of the absurd. The horror in Jiao Zi is found in the absurd being played out and the realization that the people we are spending our time with don’t care about the absurdity of their actions.
Abortion and beauty are the sources of the comedy and the horror in Jiao Zi. The topic of abortion is never played for a straight laugh, yet it takes on a humorous tinge because of the straight forward way in which it is handled. Mrs. Li’s search for beauty provides the thematic backbone of the film, and it allows abortion to be explored in a way that never feels heavy handed.
While the abortions, and aborted fetuses, are the comedy and horror of the first half of the film it is Mrs. Li’s beauty that is the comedy and horror of the second half of Jiao Zi. When Mrs. Li finally finds a measure of beauty that she is satisfied with it comes with a darkly comedic side effect. And yet it is her reaction to the side effect that provides the horror. Jiao Zi is a never ending cycle of absurdity leading to comedy leading to absurd reactions leading to more horror.
The film that I most thought of while watching Jiao Zi was another darkly comedic horror film about abortion, 4 Luni, 3 Saptamâni Si 2 Zile. That Romanian offering is better than Jiao Zi, but together the two films pack a nice one-two punch when it comes to absurdly horrific comedy. The one area where I prefer Jiao Zi to its Romanian counterpart is in the look of the two films. The cinematographer of Jiao Zi was Christopher Doyle, and it shows in the beautiful compositions and voyeuristic camera angles of the film.
There are those who will find Jiao Zi neither comedic nor horrific. I’m not one of those people, the surreal way in which the horror and comedy of Jiao Zi was implemented ending up being too alluring for me to ignore. Jiao Zi looks beautiful, it handles its subject matter in a very sly fashion, and I found myself grinning quite often at the blend of comedy and horror. Chan xiānshēng’s film does suffer from a far too vague ending, and an unnecessary character beat involving Mr. Li near the end of the film. But, those are minor complaints and the final product that is Jiao Zi left me full and content with comedic horror goodness.