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The Gangster’s God: A Film of the Taiwanese Underworld (2011)

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Synopsis:
Every Lantern Festival in eastern Taiwan, a group of men strips bare above the waist, and wearing nothing but red shorts, stands on a sacred palanquin, allowing people to pound their bodies with bottlerockets, singeing their skin. They are believed to be human incarnations of the god Handan. The “Scorching of Handan” has in recent years become a major event in eastern Taiwan – Taidong. Those who take part in the ritual have always been shrouded in mystery, and rumored to be members of the gangster underworld. The documentary “The Gangster’s God” enters the heart of these men’s universe, recording their dramatic lives. The film delves deeply into the local underworld community of Taidong.
Filmed over the course of a year and ten months, it follows four “brothers”: an organizer of the Handan ritual, and three participants of different ages – born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – who all want to stand as a Handan the following year. Their lives are often unstable – during the film, one goes to jail, and another is committed to a psychiatric clinic. Can they successfully stand on the palanquin and serve as human incarnations of the god Handan? The reason these three underworld members play the role of “living Handans” is to serve the true god in heaven. Some hope to extricate themselves from the life of the Taiwanese underworld; others are learning how to enter into it. Some have worked as hit men. Some still work as strongmen collecting debts. They have all served time in prison, and have committed various crimes. Through this ritual, we can witness the rules and relationships within this small underworld community, as well as the different values that different generations hold toward popular religious beliefs. The questions this film attempts to address are: What do the participants in this ritual gain from it? What is the relationship between popular religious faith and the social structure of this underworld community in Taidong? When they stand on the palanquin as incarnations of Handan, do they represent divinity, or evil? Are they heroes, or rapscallions?
Genres:
Documentary
Countries:
Taiwan, Documentary
BBFC:
Release Date:
Not released

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