[For the next two weeks, Alec will be covering select films from the New York Asian Film Festival. For complete coverage of the festival, make sure to check out the page for the tag “NYAFF11.” Keep watching throughout the week as we bring you more reviews!]
There is pretty much a zero-percent chance you have heard of B.T.S.: Better than Sex before now. Chances are you are drawn in by the title because it has the word “sex” in it. I certainly hadn’t, and I certainly was. I went into the theater with only the knowledge given by the by the NYAFF explanation, and (much like the one for Last Days of the World), it doesn’t really tell you what the film is truly like. I scoured the internet for some kind of explanation, or at least a picture, but there was nothing except for one picture and the poster you see above, both of which came from the promo materials from the festival. Not even IMDb has a single image. Just to hammer home the obscurity of this film, we were shown a DVD of the film (which scaled surprisingly well on a big screen), because there are no existing prints subtitled in English. Enough about that, though. Obscure is all well and good, but you’re here because you want to know if the movie is, in fact, better than sex.
And I’m not quite sure what to say.
First thing’s first: If you go into this movie expecting hardcore Taiwanese pornography under the guise of some artistic endeavor, you will be sorely disappointed on both counts. This film is neither pornography, nor does it attempt to be an art film. It is exactly the opposite, actually, and all the better for it. B.T.S.: Better than Sex is a sexually themed, but rarely sexually explicit comedy film, and it is truly hilarious. I think the decision to have minimal nudity and on-screen sex was a good one, because it allows the comedy to shine through without distraction, because, let’s face it, sex is distracting.
The film tells the stories of (at least) five people/groups: Lin, a porn-addicted student with a giant penis and no interest in real women; Tam, a girl who is madly in love with Lin but ended up going punk because he rejected her (kind of); three hooligans who bought a cursed sword in order to cut off “the perfect hand;”, a Japanese TV crew trying to capture and “save” Taiwanese delinquents in order to make a highly rated show, and a very dumb police officer who is trying to catch the delinquents.
My biggest issue with the film, and it’s something that is only really notable in the beginning is the problematic timeline. The film is chronologically confusing. Like movies such as Goodfellas, the film does not start at the beginning of the story. Unlike Goodefllas, there is not a clear distinction as to when the film’s opening scenes actually take place in the overarching universe. In fact, you don’t even realize that the film has gone back in time until explanations are offered for the events at the film’s opening. Fortunately, by the middle of the film, essentially all of those explanations have occurred, and the confusion dissipates. Why did a grown man cry over a bento box? We learn that. Why did a group of hooligans orgasm over a sword? Well, that one’s not really explained entirely, but we do learn what the sword is. Why did that guy get shot with a taser thing? We learn that too. Etc. In the end, it really doesn’t matter that the viewer isn’t entirely sure how things connect chronologically, because the ambiguity ends up making the film more intellectually stimulating than your standard sex-themed comedy.
The visual and aural directions are also quite good (especially considering this was a directorial debut). It’s nothing that could change the face of cinema, but the cinematography does do some interesting things, most of which are quite funny. A good example is found near the end, where the camera rushes down a hallway (like the shot that is found way too frequently in Raising Arizona) only to back up and turn down a different hallway. These moments of cinematic experimentation are not quite frequent, which makes them all the more enjoyable when they do pop up. The music switches from good to great, with the best moment easily being a completely random scene where three rappers (including the beautifully named MC HotDog) appear and just start (with no apparent relation to anything) rapping about things and stuff. It’s a great scene, and a good demonstration of the film’s lunacy.
That being said, B.T.S.: Better than Sex is not quite as crazy as the poster makes it look, and I was happy about that. Don’t get me wrong, the film is zany, bizarre, and all around wonderful, but it wasn’t a film that made me feel like it was strange for the sake of being strange. All of the weirdness worked within the film’s universe, and having the five stories helped flesh out that universe. Focusing only on any one of the stories could have easily ruined the film, because the film is about the universe rather than any individual character. That focus on the larger picture is what makes it work, because the bit parts also help to sell the whole thing. The man who is shot thanks to his heated tofu jello fits in perfectly with the lawyer who spits on Lin after giving him part of a last will and testament and the random cab driver who has a baseball bat with a sword inside. The humorous nature of these characters means that the audience was laughing pretty much constantly throughout the film, which is the best possible testament that I can give of its quality. I only scratched the surface of the humor with this review, because I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you are able to see it (good luck), but trust me, it’s absolutely hilarious and well worth seeing.
Side note: After the film was a Q&A session with writer/director Su Chao-pin, which I attempted to record (with mixed results). I will hopefully be able to transcribe at least parts of it, so look for that to go up soon! He is a really nice guy and said some really interesting things.