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Review: Surreal Taiwanese satire 'The Great Buddha+' is a sharp take on class

Review: Surreal Taiwanese satire 'The Great Buddha+' is a sharp take on class
Cres Chuang, center, in the film "The Great Buddha+." (Cheng Cheng Films)

As savagely satirical as it is gorgeously surreal, “The Great Buddha+” is something else again — an outrageous, poignant punk Taiwanese black comedy marking the feature arrival of fresh filmmaking talent Huang Hsin-Yao.

Shot predominantly in crisp black and white that’s tonally reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch, the picture is set in the small rural Southern Taiwan village home to laid-back Belly Button (Bamboo Chen).

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When not making a meager living collecting trash, he hangs out with security guard Pickle (Cres Chuang), watching color dashcam footage pilfered from the car belonging to his elitist, American-educated boss, Kevin (Leon Dai), whose unseen sexual conquests make for a provocative soundtrack. But the voyeuristic distraction inevitably uncovers darker truths surrounding Kevin and the equally corrupt village.

Along the way, director Huang, who expanded the film from his similarly named 2014 short, periodically chimes in to offer helpful character backstories and dry commentary, occasionally introduced with “Dear audience members …”

While amusingly breaking that fourth wall, Taiwan’s official Oscar submission also doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the formidable wall that exists between the privileged and the exploited, taking unambiguous aim at the political and religious hypocrisies that serve to further extend the class divide.

Huang’s tongue may be planted firmly in his cheek, but his heart is unerringly in the right place.

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‘The Great Buddha+’

In Taiwanese dialect, Mandarin and English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood

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