Kinotherapy’s review published on Letterboxd:
One of the most intriguing films I've seen in the past few weeks. What at first seemed like it was another typical Taiwanese film about wayward youth, become something much more profound and wondrous. "Rebels of the Neon God" follows a reserved but unfulfilled boy as he seeks out revenge on the kid who smashed his father's car mirror.
Sounds a little ridiculous but our protagonist, Hsiao Kang has quite a few motivations for his actions. For starters he has a poor relationship with his father. He wants to gain his approval and is constantly disappointing both his parents. He perhaps feels that if he exacts revenge on him it will be some kind of poetic justice for his father and a symbol of love. But as the film goes on Hsiao Kang's motives for stalking Ah Tze become more complex. You're never entirely sure why he's following Ah Tze and his friends, even when you see the revenge carry out, it almost feels like more of an obsession. Perhaps he longs to be free like them. He's stuck in a cram school and has responsibilities and expectations from his distant parents. It creates an enigma in our protagonist of wanting to impress his parents, but also rebelling in spiteful ways. Not wanting to waste his time in a school which he can't succeed in, or trying to gain his parents approval when they hardly understand or care for him. Hsiao Kang wants to be worth something, but is afraid that he's not.
He overhears his parents talk about him at nights. His mother believes is the reincarnation of The Neon God. A mischievous and sometimes deceitful spirit who would exact any kind of foul deeds on those who crossed his path. Now I personally don't think Hsiao Kang is intended to be the Neon God even in the context of the film. Hsiao Kang isn't a God he's a mere mortal. He suffers, struggles and receives consequences for his actions, making him question his ways. He overhears his parents talking about him something the deep inside upsets him and forces him to rebel.
Moving on I haven't even gotten to the parallel story of Ah Tze who is being followed unsuspectingly by Hsiao Kang. But can you blame me? Hsiao Kang is what puts the mysterious spin on this story. Ah Tze spends his days getting in trouble, stealing with his friend and hanging out with a girl he's infatuated with. I won't spoil the end but I personally found it a bittersweet moment and just how it portrays the consequences of both stories. It's about karma, it's about how the negative circumstances can bring about positive ones. "Rebels of the Neon God" seeks to show the fundamentals of the ups and downs of life, Both the explainable and the unexplainable.
"Rebels of the Neon God" was intriguing, and insightful with both it's characters and it's ideas. The narrative is so unique and it's presentation of still shots and long takes make the experience even more mesmerizing. It can be about karma it can be about the unknown circumstances that effect us in both positive and negative ways. We don't know how or why things happen but it can be beautiful. Highly recommend this, so check it out!