The Tag-Along 2 screens 6.20pm, 5 April 2019 at Curzon Soho as part of London’s inaugural Taiwan Film Festival
In 2014, a team of men illegally logging at night on Dakeng Hill, Taichung unearths a buried corpse, and then comes under supernatural attack. Nobody notices the absence of three undocumented Thai workers, but the disappearance of their Taiwanese overseer makes the local papers, along with other missing persons, in a collage of clippings that form the opening credits of The Tag-Along 2. The sharp-eyed might even discern, in this mosaic of missing posters, the faces of many characters from the first film, also directed by Cheng Wei-hao.
Still, one of the attractions of this sequel is the way in which it deviates from the original, finding its own paths through the haunted forest – indeed, totally remapping its terrains – before looping back through and around the first film’s timeline in a manner that transforms, rather than merely rerunning, its plot. Eventually Yi-chun (Hsi Wei-ning) will return, a broken shadow of the confident, independent-minded DJ from The Tag-Along – but before that we will meet new characters with their own problems and fates. And if the first film ended with pregnancy, this new one will pick up that motif and run with it, making the fraught relations between mothers and daughters its thematic focus.
Cut to 2016, and young social worker Shu-fen (Rainie Yang) is having to separate ‘weird’ mother Mei-hua (Francesca Kao) from her young daughter Yong-ching (Isa Lin) who has for a whole year been kept locked away, and covered in hand-written inscriptions, inside their apartment. Meanwhile, Shu-fen is having difficulties with her own daughter Ya-ting (Ruby Chan), a sullen teen seven weeks pregnant by an older boyfriend. Faced with having an abortion that she is not sure she wants, Ya-ting vanishes – and Shu-fen’s increasingly frantic search for her daughter will lead to Ya-ting’s boyfriend the animistic exorcist Chun-kai/’Master Tiger’ (Wi Nien-hsuan), to a disused hospital, back to Mei-hua, and eventually to an abandoned amusement park in the forest where another lost daughter – a little girl in red familiar from urban legend (and from the first film) – longs to find her own mother.
The amusement park setting is key to the wild and bumpy ride along which The Tag-Along 2 is taking its viewers. For in a narrative that violently criss-crosses between past and present, rattling along through unstable, labyrinthine locations where reality and nightmare vie for occupancy, everything is ruled over by irrationality and hallucination, leaving us dizzy with disorientation. Here ancient religious traditions and black magic are brought into conflict with more modern misfortunes, and maternal instincts prove both a toxic, destructive force and the only hope for a better future. As we find out who the little girl in red is, and why she has come to lure damaged people into the woods for the demonic mosien to trap, as in the first film what happens to these characters might be supernatural, but the negative emotions which drive them are all too recognisably real, ensuring that the film’s horrors are rooted in grounds as much psychological as haunted. It’s a crazy roller-coaster of a film, perhaps too intense to be straightforwardly fun, but nonetheless rammed full of unhinged incident and deranged detail.
Strap: Cheng Wei-hao’s spooky sequel The Tag-Along 2 is both mountain hike and amusement park ride through the fraught dynamic of the mother-daughter relationship.
© Anton Bitel