Michael Hui makes a welcome return to the screen in a rewarding film, directed by Chung Mong-hong.
Hong Kong comedy star Michael Hui returns after a long absence in the latest from Taiwanese filmmaker Chung Mong-hong. A road movie about a drug deal gone wrong, Godspeed may not appear special on the surface, but this mashup of drama, thriller and comedy quickly takes on a philosophical tone as it muses on themes of aging and displacement.
A young man picks up a job as a drug mule from an ad and after following some convoluted instructions, looks for a cab to take from Taipei down to Tainan in the South. An elderly taxi driver convinces him to go down in his old car and the pair set off towards a drug deal that doesn't go according to plan.
The curious relationship between the mule and the driver is the crux of the film but Hui, who plays the cabbie, doesn't appear until a good 20 minutes into the story. Instead, director Chung opts to open the story with a drug dealer's trip to Thailand (where he lands in hot water with Only God Forgives' Vithaya Pansringarm) and his meeting with a business colleague upon his return, which involves a lengthy discussion about the man's old couch, which has never had its plastic wrap removed. Only after this do we meet either of the main characters, though these other figures do return on the periphery later on.
Retired Hui makes a very welcome return to screen, playing a genial cab driver who has fallen on hard times. His character has been in Taiwan for over two decades but has never managed to find his feet, yet he no longer returns to Hong Kong, which doesn't feel like his home anymore. TV show host Na Dow, playing the younger drug mule, has the easier role, as the silence of his character allows Hui's cabbie to ramble, but he's no slouch either, as he puts on an aloofness that masks some inner turmoil of his own.
While Godspeed generally takes its time as it unfolds and indulges in anecdote-heavy conversations, it occasionally veers into pure genre territory. These bursts are both surprisingly brutal and unbearably intense, particularly when juxtaposed with the languid tone of the rest of the film. The cruelty of these moments, which includes a standout torture scene involving a helmet, avoid being gratuitous by highlighting a sense of ingrained apathy in some of the characters, which gels well with other themes in the story.
Filmed in beautiful widescreen with rich, sunburnt colors, Godspeed often shrinks its characters in the frame, as it places them within larger situations that are beyond the scope of their control. Chung's odd tone may not sit well with viewers who don't know what they're getting themselves into, but those that can settle into the film's alternating moods will discover a uniquely rewarding work filled with a charming sense of humor and pensive ache for the past.