The Abandoned screened at the 2023 New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF)

By Luis Vazquez

Never has a birthday song sounded so creepy. The dark overtones of this film cannot hide the central theme brought to you by Taiwanese director Tseng Ying-ting. Desperate Love has no limits. The award he garnered “The Uncaged Award for Best Feature Film Competition” from the NYAFF was a celebration of risk taking. Appropriate considering that for the final third of this movie it appeared that the star of the film Detective Wu Jie, played by Janine Chang, the West German born Taiwanese actress, would not escape the cage she was in. The physical and more so the mental one she wrestled with throughout.

The story begins with two people, one a photographer who prepared passports for undocumented workers and below the surface a birthday killer and one a cop, who was set on suicide. Both lost their partners, one a fool who was had on his birthday, hence the birthday killings, the other, whose partner who was also a cop, shooting himself in a car that the deceptive Wu Jie, spends nights sleeping in to avoid being home alone, yet nearly offing herself at the beginning of the film.

This ironically was in a field amid a New Years Eve fireworks show, the lady detective Jie, while walking and still looking to put herself to permanent sleep finds a dead woman in water decomposing. As she reflected she stated the dead body chose her to solve what happened. Her superior apparently thinks so rejecting a transfer in lue of suspension until she completes this case. He even uses a rookie to shame her to take on this investigation. What were the mysteries underlying below? Who would be willing to go to that place without nothing to lose. This film was a long sought brainchild of the director who stated that he was a fan of detective stories and in particular wanted a woman to play the role as lead detective in this film. “I really want a female character, ” Tsing stated, “Everyone’s fragile and tough.”

The story, like downtown Manhattan, was a series of twists and unexpected turns. First a body is found, then an anonymous call leads the way. Then its discovered that the obvious choice for murderer was not the one. In fact Lin You-sheng (Ethan Juan) though he was a facilitator of the underground worker trade, was not all bad. In fact the one killed was his ex which we discover when her sister arrives to look for her missing sibling, broke up the relationship and was seeing someone else. He is also the one who has to be summoned to view her dead body, along with the rest of the workers, laying on a slab in the factory. He panics and buries her in the mountains but fate unearths her during detective Jie’s walk of attempted self-destruction. 

Lin and Detective Jie cross paths as she first suspects him, then finds herself in an alliance with him to find out the true manipulator of the events whose calling card was leaving a cut out heart and severed fourth finger which symbolized by its title Vena Amoris, the Vein of Love, which is a vein that runs from the finger to the heart. The one thing that tied all these three major characters together were they all were rejected by their partners, yet only one used his hurt to run a path of destruction on would be candidates, killing them on their birthdays, taking horrific “Family Portraits” with him sitting and smiling with a framed portrait of the victim in a horrified pose with the heart and finger of said victim in glass exposed clearly on a table besides.

One actress who shined was the bubbly, by-the-book junior detective played by Chloe Xiang who was being trained and blooded by the detective, whose performance provided a much needed comic relief as her straight to the vest official responses and over the top nievety and charm that won over the audience who by this point were fully invested and feeling the effects of the story as its sad aspects built a hidden weight familiar to us all especially those who identify with the human traits found in grief and depression. “So I do think that this is something that I’ve been discovering all my life and it is my motif,” said director Tseng, “..which is about how can you say goodbye to the people you love the most.”

Ultimately the rookie through her character trademark of efficient study found the clue that led all to hunt down the killer who had kidnapped the victims sister who was the die that night. The finale leads the unlikely trio championing a woman who represented a group, migrant workers who are illegal and by extension disadvantaged. They all had personal reasons to pursue this to its conclusion. Rookie got stabbed trying to intercept the killer when they honed in on him while detective Jie shot Lin to keep him from choking out the killer. All this in the name of keeping him alive even going so far as to make a deal to attempt to bait the killer to admit to the new victims location. 

In the end the killer and detective end up in a game of one on one chess to see who would leave alive. Even when the detective came out on top she was about to die of gas poisoning until she found the strength, grabbing a air tank and smashing the thick glass of the door that her bullets could not shatter, finally at the same time we see flashbacks of her in car about to shoot, then suddenly the glass cracks and the air of life enters the death chamber and we see Jie in the car also rising from the dark.

The Abandoned is not perfect always in presentation and can be a hodgepodge at times. However, it is riveting and one that you can’t turn away for a minute. Like witnessing a car accident, the audience will find itself unable to leave until its conclusion. Kudos to the director for tapping into many base human emotions and instincts to tell a story of lost love and an example of what happens when desperation becomes the dominant means to an end. “I do think that you will touch all audiences around the world and that we can blur the boundaries of nationalities, “Tseng reflected, “And this is a very universal story.”

We end the film seeing her with the dog of the killer who she was forced to feed as the killer led her to his house first while handcuffed on the way to discovering the locale of the would be next victim. She is at a junk pile for abandoned cars, She is finally letting go of the memories. the car with the two bullet holes, is being left behind, abandoned if you will, so she can finally live.





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