The Terrorizers

English Title: The Terrorizers

Country of Origin: China

Studio: Central Motion Pictures Corporation

Director: Edward Yang

Producer(s): Raymond Chow, Lin Deng Fei, Zhao Qibin

Screenplay: Edward Yang, Yeh Hsiao

Cinematographer: Chang Chen

Art Director: Lai Ming-Tong

Editor: Liao Ching-Song

Runtime: 119 minutes

Genre: Drama

Year: 1986

Volume: Chinese


In modern Taipei a gunfight between the police and a criminal impacts upon and/or connects several citizens of the city: a young photographer and his girlfriend, a struggling novelist and her crumbling marriage to her doctor husband, and a teenage hustler who was caught up in the shootout and who was injured fleeing from the scene. The novelist bemoans her lack of inspiration and begins seeing, both professionally and personally, a publisher; whilst her husband informs on a colleague to a superior at work in order to secure a promotion. The young female hustler, who has a fractious relationship at home with her mother, begins making prank phone calls, and in so doing arouses the suspicion of the novelist toward her husband; whilst the photographer, who has become obsessed by the hustler through the photos he took of her, tracks her down to live out his obsession (she herself is engaged in sexual scams with a young man). The novelist leaves her husband to complete her novel, and finds success with it, but he is passed over for promotion and labours over his feelings toward his estranged wife, something that ultimately leads to drastic action on his part.


If Taipei Story (1985), Edward Yang’s previous, sophomore feature, depicted the amorphous, changing face of Taiwan’s capital and the attendant ways in which different generations reconcile (or indeed fail to reconcile) themselves to its modern thrust, his subsequent work, The Terrorizers explores in more depth the alienation resulting from its figurative stasis. The focus here remains on young and middle-aged characters for whom the city tends to recede into the background as personal imperatives and crises interject in their lives. Indeed, the very structure of the narrative – which begins with a moment of pronounced violence that links together an ensemble of characters in its immediate vicinity, to follow a centrifugal pattern of emanation outward from this single event – works to dramatize a sense of an exterior catalyst that facilitates and brings to the surface a whole nexus of latent feelings and emotions no less violent; frequently more so.        

Where one could but invoke the spirit of Yasujiro Ozu as a determinant on Taipei Story, here the shadow of Michelangelo Antonioni has been perceived to loom large over the narrative, not simply because of the prevalence of a vision or urban alienation and isolation but due to one of the characters being a photographer who obsessively pores over several photographs he has taken of a woman at a crime scene. This has somewhat too easily been compared to Blow-Up (1966), but there is in fact no mystery to be unravelled or crime to be solved by this young man. His quest is personal and emotional, and works as a microcosm of The Terrorizers in general. The title seems to refer explicitly to the criminal activities of the young photographed girl, who works with a male friend to lure in and rob men and who takes to making prank telephone calls. However, her situation is merely an objective correlative, perhaps even a corrective, to the other characters, the impersonal trauma that she visits merely throwing into stark relief the myriad ways in which the other characters all visit pain and torture on those seemingly closest to them.

The Terrorizers is perhaps the most austere and unforgiving work in Edward Yang’s sadly curtailed canon. Its unforgiving dramatization of individual action and emotional cause and effect serves to narrativize the classicism that was beginning to emerge as a distinctive marker of the director’s fledgling artistry. As such, it is a key work in his career, and with its poignant, ambiguous, dream-level denouement serving to crystallize a vision of the symbiosis between internal and external conflict, it is also perhaps the most anomalous.

Author of this review: Adam Bingham