Taiwanese director Singing Chen’s second film God Man Dog is made up of four or five interwoven narratives. It made me wonder what the purpose of this cinematic form can be. Perhaps the stories might join together to make a single larger story. Or what happens in one story might reflect interestingly on what happens in another. Or it might just be that one of the ways a work of art or entertainment can give pleasure is by letting us see how a puzzle is solved.
God Man Dog is a converging ensemble piece í la Altman, but lacks his masterly orchestration of disparate elements. It is hard to see a coherent narrative whole, or one element making sense of another. The stories are connected not intrinsically but by chance elements. The characters all make journeys, and there is some convergence of time and place (Taipei, a regional village, and the highway that joins them). But the stories do not contribute significantly to each other’s development or resolution.
Perhaps this is too analytical a way to approach what this film has to offer us. It may be better seen not as narrative-driven but as a set of contrasting studies of people confronted by weighty problems, to do with alcohol, depression, work, money, growing up, sex, parenthood, disability, death. We are shown how they try to get to grips with their lives, and in several cases are invited to consider the role that religious or superstitious feeling plays in this. God and the supernatural do not seem to give the characters what they need: we are left thinking that they face their troubles alone unless they find something in the human world to give meaning to their lives.
There is an impersonal feeling to the cinematography - little sense of a human touch in the filming, of the camera’s presence, of light playing on film. The blank, detached gaze of the camera emphasises the characters’ isolation, but also gives them a kind of equality: there are no protagonists or privileged characters in this film. They are on an equal footing not only with each other but with us, for there is no judgement and no irony in the way they are depicted - the viewer does not see more than the characters see, or understand better than the characters understand.
God Man Dog is not, I am pretty sure, a deep film, though it is ‘about’ Life, Death, and all that. However, it does show us things about people in ways that are perhaps its own. The acting always carries conviction: what we see seems real, even when it is intriguingly odd. The dogs? I think they are just random interlopers into the human stories.