Fantasia Film Review: The Sadness

Year: 2021
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Rob Jabbaz
Writer: Rob Jabbaz
Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Wang Tzu-chiang 

By Harris Dang

Set in modern day Taipei, “The Sadness” (2021) tells the story of Jack (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina Lei), a young couple who live together and are in a bit of a standstill in their relationship. He thinks that he should focus on his career while Kat wants to make the most out of moments in their relationship. The two separate as she goes to work while he stays at home.

In the city, there have been news reports of an “Alvin virus” that has affected the public. With numerous doctors and virologists trying to warn the government about the possible effects of the virus, they have decided to downplay the effects of it due to the time being an election year and fear of citizen panic and its effects on the economy. But little do the people know that the virus is not something that makes one ill.

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Writer/director Rob Jabbaz has stated for this film, “The Sadness” that he wanted to harken back to Category III Hong Kong films of the 1990’s. For those who do not know the term “Category III,” it is essentially the upper adult tier of the film classification, meaning that graphic violence and salacious sexual content are allowed. With films like “Ebola Syndrome” (1996), “Red to Kill” (1994), “The Untold Story” (1993) and “Dr. Lamb” (1992) being prime examples, they encapsulate the unhinged, uncompromising and transgressive experiences of what it means to be Category III.

It can be mulled over that the reason why there was such a stir of such films during that time was because it was representative (a creative outlet, if you will) of the panic and fear of the people in Hong Kong before the Handover of Hong Kong in 1997, as people did not know what would happen after 50 years under British rule.

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In the case of “The Sadness,” Jabbaz has certainly set his eyes on social climate via government incompetence, the darkness of the human condition and the discrimination of women and male toxicity, the former being amusingly enough quite similar to “Get the Hell Out”, a 2020 zombie horror comedy. However, “The Sadness” is definitely not a comedy and there are very little moments of levity that will allay audiences from the buckets upon buckets of ultraviolence on display.

On the negative front, the violence may be so overwhelming that it basically overshadows the messages Jabbaz is trying to say (even if the messages are delivered as bluntly as the violence), making the film potentially exhausting in the process. Since the timeframe of the film is quite short, there is not much room for character arcs or emotional drama for the actors to chew on (pun intended) so it is all a matter down to expectations as Jabbaz is clearly aiming for an experience in shock. Thankfully on that note, he succeeds with flying (red?) colours.

The gore and special effects by IF SFX Art Maker are so astounding in their gruesomeness that the splashes of blood can be seen as operatic. There are moments of violence that transcends basic blood and gore that they become ideas that are outside the box that should not be spoiled including a scene that seems to be a nod to “A Serbian Film” (2010). 

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The performers do quite well with their thin characters, perfectly portraying the physical and mental anguish with believable conviction. Special highlight goes to Wang Tzu-chiang, who relishes the depravity of a man on the train who tries to flirt with Kat and succumbs to the virus, making him the primary antagonist.

The virus’ role in the story makes it sure to show the darkness of humanity, making characters degrade to their baser instincts with no off switch. The key moment that makes the virus different from flesh-eating zombies is the fact that those afflicted with the virus still have self-control but the urges are too strong to resist, making them scarier and more unpredictable than the average zombie. It also helps that it adds to the commentary in how the people are affected by the government (how their selfishness could lead to recession) as well as how men pursue and denigrate women which is encapsulated by the cat-and-mouse game between Lei and Wang’s characters.

The role of the virus also leads to few moments of levity that are quite effective; most notably a moment involving the government’s role in stopping the virus and motivating the people that concludes with a bang.

Overall, “The Sadness” lives up to the Category III name and delivers exactly what it promises with entertainingly reprehensible results. Recommended.

“The Sadness” will be showing at 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Click the picture below to explore the festival program.

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