God Man Dog first published by Little White Lies
“Even a rich man can’t tell the future,” says homeless, appetitive boy (Jonathan Chang) to devout trucker Yellow Bull (Jack Kao), who spends his time feeding stray dogs, mending abandoned Buddhist artefacts, and playing a costumed god on the festival circuit to raise money for a new prosthetic leg.
Meanwhile, an indigenous Taiwanese labourer (Ulao Ugan) struggles to reconcile his alcoholism and bad luck with his Christian faith, while his pugnacious daughter (Tum Xiao-han) cannot decide whether she wants to break away or return to the fold – and the relationship between a well-heeled hand model (Tarcy Su) and her architect husband (Chang Han) is being tested by the unwanted arrival, and subsequent cot death, of their baby, as well as by religious differences.
Of course, any viewer familiar with this sort of interwoven ensemble piece will be able at least to predict a plot based in coincidence – yet director Chen Singing never allows her contrivances to lapse into farce. As her characters struggle with the limitations of their bodies and yearn for something spiritual to guide them through their troubled lives, we are shown a god’s-eye view of the strange connections that bind these disparate wanderers together.
With its three sets of characters from different social milieux whose lives are changed by a single car accident, and with its use of stray dogs as a unifying motif, God Man Dog (Liu Lang Shen Gou Ren) does not conceal the considerable debt it owes to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000) – but still, the religious pluralism of Taiwan offers all manner of fresh frissons to Chen’s second feature, as Buddhism, Christianity, New Age spirituality and atheism each play their part in the unfolding drama of human fragility, and God (or at least the writing team of Chen and Lou Yi-an) is shown to move in mysterious, if sometimes providential, ways.
© Anton Bitel