Beautifully shot, broodingly scored and spunkily edited, “Young Dudes” is so hip it hurts, yet so woefully meaningless. Taiwanese helmer-scribe DJ Chen Yin-jung’s first feature since “Stand in Love” (2006) toys superficially with such profundities as the apocalypse and world transformation via cyberspace, while unsuccessfully grafting high-concept sci-fi onto a low-intensity metrosexual youth drama. To her credit, Chen captures the zeitgeist of digitally immersed youth culture on a hyperactive visual canvas and, as ever, makes the pic a vehicle for homoerotic hijinks that will ensure access to gay-themed fests and a cluster of arthouses.
The pic opens with a spate of newscasts announcing the imminence of the apocalypse in 2012. Carpentry instructor Guy (Tsuyoshi Abe, from Chen’s “Stand in Love” and “Catch”) and onetime musician Adam (Edison Wang Po-chieh) respond by vowing to save the world. Adam’s ambition is to start a country on Facebook. How that’s going to save the world is never once accounted for as their concept shifts to the formation of Klaatu, an imaginary spaceship that supposedly serves as their Noah’s ark in cyberspace. Meanwhile, after a night of revelry at a trendy bar, the buddies find themselves in bed together in the apartment of Russian femme Adele (Larisa Bakurova). The three produce podcasts from their homes and make global headlines.
The undercurrent of desire between Adam and Guy subverts their habitual bickering and goofing off, turning it into a furtive form of flirting. However, the intriguing aspect of this relationship is watered down by the appearance of Adele, who qualifies as neither femme fatale nor platonic friend. Thesps give unremarkable performances, except Wang (“Bodyguards and Assassins,” “Winds of September”), who demonstrates a more flippant side than his earnest portrayals of revolutionaries and dreamers have allowed.
Chen’s trippy, unfocused screenplay isn’t particularly concerned with making the protags’ ideas, actions and developments cohere. By the time lenser Patrick Chou appears to have run out of wacky angles and fancy color filters with which to capture their exaggerated body movements, pseudo-intellectual drivel and obnoxious pranks, the film flies further off the radar with a baffling episode involving alien abduction and parallel universes.
Aesthetically, the pic boasts a cool, contempo style. Chen’s bold, experimental editing lends a pulsing rhythm to the deluge of dissociative images, while her choice of a dilapidated power plant in western Taiwan and a hill overlooking a lake in Taitung make for an atmospheric mise-en-scene in which the mysterious lurks just beneath the mundane. The tonally complex and hypnotic score, a blend of rock, folk and soul music courtesy of Macanese-Italian twin band Soler, has a sweeping emotional power that the story doesn’t provide.