Confucius: "Make the people rich."
Disciples: "What comes next after they are made rich?"
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i watched A Confucian Confusion (1994) dir. Edward Yang with my roommates the other day. here are some messy notes and incomplete thoughts. i may add to this later, as the post ends pretty abruptly...
a little bit about the title: A Confucian Confusion in eng; the film deals with conflicts between confucian ideals and the "new rules" of a rapidly changing world where success is key. values such as honesty and being filial fall to the wayside in the minds of these twenty-somethings in favor of getting a leg up against a career rival or simply engaging in a bit of hedonism. 獨立時代 in (trad.) chn; the chinese title literally means "independence era" or "era of independence" (独立 - simpl. independence, 时代 - era). this era of independence applies to both Taiwan itself as well as the characters. it's the 1990s, and the island nation of taiwan is finally getting a taste for autonomy. martial law was lifted just a few years ago, and taipei is able to get some catching up done in the economic, political, and social spheres. taiwan spent most of the 19th century under imperial japanese rule and then strict, militaristic nationalist KMT rule after wwii ended.
a whirlwind of characters are introduced in the first few minutes of the film, and their ties to one another are slowly revealed to the audience over the course of the film, which takes place over the span of approx three days. the story and characters surround our main character molly, a high ranker at a PR firm.
a confucian confusion is a deeply dry, cynical satire at it's core. characters blatantly lack self awareness and only exist in their upper class workaholic bubbles. characters brazenly lie to one another constantly, and the audience is usually the only party fully privy to it. the nature of the screenplay lets the film lie to the audience, as well. when an intern, feng, is fired by molly under vague suspicions of a workplace affair, this is initially posed as a ridiculous notion, only for the audience to learn later that it was entirely true. the movie plays out almost like a dollhouse, with the audience looking in, poking around, and slowly gaining knowledge of how the pieces fit together to make a messy whole. taiwan's a big place, but word travels fast between characters, and something only two characters knew could be spread to the rest of the cast with just a few phone calls.
molly's fiance, akeem, seems very confident in his and molly's relationship on the surface, near the beginning of the film. he refers to it as a "one country, two systems" dynamic, in which they are only together for mutual gain, not for any sense of love or care. molly does not care for akeem in any romantic way, but all akeem wants is for molly to love him back. the wealthy akeem funds molly's firm in an attempt to win her affection, but this only solidifies the perspective molly has: the relationship is purely transactional.
dependency and independence are major themes - both the dependent nature of being in any kind of relationship as well as the dependency created in the workforce. trust is a surface-level concept. to trust is to play checkers (akeem) while everyone else is playing chess. the movie operates under the assumption that everyone is lying to each other and everyone knows it. if a character doesn't know it, they're simple and gullible, virtuous to a fault. additionally, the characters unintentional independence from confucian ideals creates a more modern dependence on twisted traditional values; friendships are investments, emotions can be profitable, and people are a means to an end.