Struggling to find love

Terrorizers looks at how online portrayals of sex have hurt trust between men and women

In the world of serious drama films, it is common to find characters who are poor - problems seem bigger and motivations more urgent when characters come from the bottom of society.

Taiwan-based film-maker Ho Wi Ding (left) is aware of the bias for tragic stories about struggling families and street urchins. His new film, Terrorizers, follows six middle-to upper-class Taiwanese searching for love and comfort rather than the next meal.

"People hate that. They ask, 'Why don't you write something about the homeless?'" he says with a laugh.

There are critics and certain audiences who believe that only the rural poor have real problems and the issues of the urban middle class are relatively trivial. It is a romantic myth, the 49-year-old tells The Straits Times.

"They think the poor have more issues. While people who live in the country might not be as privileged as those who live in the city, they tend to be very happy," he says.

Terrorizers (R21, 127 minutes) is now showing exclusively at The Projector.

The film opens with a terror attack in the Taipei Main Station transport hub, targeted at Yu Fang (Moon Lee) and Xiao Zhang (J.C. Lin), who are dating.

The story, which begins in the time before the attack and ends with its aftermath, introduces six young urbanites, most of them lonely but unable to form healthy relationships. For men, a vast online industry catering to their needs has normalised their view of women as objects, which has caused women to develop a defensive mistrust of men.

The ensemble represents a "microcosm of society", while its chopped-up chronological structure adds suspense, says Ho, who was born and raised in Malaysia. He, his Taiwanese wife and their daughter have lived in various countries, but he still considers Taiwan to be his home base.

Ho says he wanted the film to address male characters who call themselves incels - slang for "involuntary celibates" - a subculture of men who become bitter and vindictive after they discover that real women are nothing like the ones in video games and pornography. Incels flock to social media sites such as Reddit and 4Chan.

"I want the film to reflect what's going on right now. The more time people spend in the virtual world, the lonelier they become. I'm not saying everyone who plays video games and chats with cam girls will become an incel. I'm just pointing out that there are a lot of things going on in society today that we ought to pay attention to," he says.

His film recently opened the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.

His debut feature, the drama-comedy Pinoy Sunday (2009), won him the Best New Director Golden Horse award.

Since then, he has moved between drama and comedy-drama. His previous film is Cities Of Last Things (2018, available on Netflix), an ambitious film that combines science fiction, crime and romance. At the Toronto Film Festival, it won the Platform Prize, awarded for works that show great directorial vision.

"I'm not comfortable sitting in one place," says Ho about his fondness for mixing genres. Terrorizers juxtaposes scenes of sweet romance with starker, more disturbing interludes.

"I write about what fascinates me at the moment. I don't worry about switching genres too much because in real life, one day could be comedy, another day, drama. And I prefer that my films resemble life."

• Terrorizers is now showing exclusively at The Projector.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2021, with the headline 'Struggling to find love'. Subscribe