Filmhounds Magazine

All things film – In print and online

Locust – Semaine de la Critique 2024 (Film Review)

3 min read

Image: mk2 Films

Set during the 2019 protest, Locust is a politically charged drama with a thriller bubbling underneath. And if that sounds like a lot, it's because it is. Director KEFF, with his feature debut, bites off more than he can chew, exploring the turmoil and corruption spreading in Taipei as seen through the eyes of a young gangster.

Zhong-Han (Liu Wei Chen) is a twenty-something, non-verbal man working as a dishwasher at a family restaurant. The owners, Rong (An-Shun Yu) and his wife (Yi-Jung Wu), treat Zhong-Han as their own son. By night, however, Zhong-Han works for the troublesome Kobe (Devin Pan) as his “deadliest gun”; collecting debt money from vulnerable labour workers and mugging drunk influencers. He tries to live these two lives separately but, of course, they clash with disastrous results.

KEFF, as the sole writer and director, doesn't hold back from the pessimism. What works so well is how he takes his time setting up Zhong-Han's character and world. He's reserved not just as a result of being mute, but because of his actions as well. During the day as a pot washer, he's a dutiful worker and often accompanies Rong in meetings and other tasks. Even in his night shifts as a gangster, Zhong-Han is a menacing lackey who threatens victims with a stare rather than forceful action. It's not explicitly explained but you get the sense that he didn't have much choice when it came to being involved with a gang.

Carrying the film are the strong performances. Wei Chen is sublime, getting across so much with the subtlest of glances and not a single word uttered. The supporting cast is just as good, with Yu heart-achingly endearing as the father figure forever supportive as his life falls apart, and Rimong Ihwar oozes charm as Zhong-Han's love interest. 

Locust, at its heart, is a tragedy. That pessimism and narcissism come to fruition after the extended setup gives way to a barrage of consequences and escalating conflict. KEFF ultimately argues that these thuggish youths are victims of a crumbling state infected with a rotten upper-class society running the show, but there are no easy answers or solutions here — it's human nature, an endless cycle of violence and depravity. 

This would have hit harder if it wasn't for an uneven second half. After the more grounded drama, KEFF switches gears and directs a thriller filled with mobsters, guns and destructive set pieces. As the unrest grows more outlandish, Locust gets dangerously close to becoming an over-dramatic crime epic, but KEFF does reign it in in key moments to hammer home his affecting thesis. 

As far as feature debuts go, it's an impressive one. KEFF has a considered, careful approach to directing with a lingering camera navigating the dark alleyways of Taipei, and he pulls terrific performances from his cast. Being ambitious is worthy of praise, although here it threatens to derail a riveting narrative with a sombre message. Locust may not be the confident masterpiece it wants to be, but it sure is a stellar showcase for exciting new and under-appreciated talent. 

Locust premiered at this year's 77th  Film Festival, as part of the  sidebar.