There were of course many reasons that prompted last weekend's getaway to Montreal, but chief among them was Fantasia's North American premiere of Rob Jabbaz's The Sadness. Shot in Taipei's summer of 2020 during the delayed onset of Covid-19, this title has been rapidly growing infamy for its extreme violence. I became aware of it after Rue Morgue put in on the cover of their Jul/Aug issue and then leaned shortly after, rather fortuitously, that it was screening during my visit. Then, months later, stuffed high up in the balcony at the Imperial, I finally took in The Sadness.
Citizens in Taipei fight to survive during an outbreak that compels those infected to torture, murder and rape.
So is it worth all the hype? For the most part, yes. I mean, you know how things go when movies get talked up as they do - Fantasia even put a disclaimer on their listing - your imagination is always worse than the real thing. Having said that, The Sadness was no doubt a Category 3 title (Hong Kong's much maligned version of NC-17) peppered with bloodstained set pieces that kept the tension going once all hell broke loose. Not only was it gory, violent and transgressive, but also well made with solid performances by Regina Lei and Berant Zhu. A lot of the tension is built on these two trying to find each other again after the movie's gentle and relatable opening scene of their morning ritual.
Also memorable was the axe-wielding company man played by Tzu-Chiang Wang. Jabbaz revealed in the Q&A that Wang is a well-known character actor in Taiwan (he referenced Harry Dean Stanton as a Western equivalent) so I'd say it was pretty ballsy for him to have taken such a lecherous role. In amongst all this were the obvious parallels between The Alvin and Corona viruses, as well as some political satire that's pretty transparent no matter what corner of the globe you hail from.
Listening to the gasps and sighs of disgust happening around me during The Sadness' most talked about scene, I realized that it had been a while since I had experienced such a thing. It gave me pause, as it seemed like during the aughts there was some nerve shredding title grazing my eyeballs every year. Now, not so much and if I'm being honest, I don't think the machine allows the shit that tips the scales of taste to be made anymore. I mean, a Canadian had to basically flee to Taiwan and use completely independent money (his producer Jeff Huang is, among other things, a crypto tycoon) to get something like The Sadness made. I can't even imagine other Category 3 films like Red to Kill and Untold Story even being shot in this day and age. Some people might say this is a good thing. I am not one of those people.
While I may no longer actively seek out the sinewy fringes of shock cinema, knowing it is still there comforts me because lacking the video store experience, I still want the idea of the forbidden to exist in some form or another.