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What on Earth
Have I Done Wrong?
What on Earth Have I Done Wrong?

Writer-director-star Doze Niu (left) and Janine Chang (right)
in a not-so-documentary-like moment in What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?
Chinese: 情非得已之生存之道
Year: 2007  
Director: Doze Niu  
  Writer: Doze Niu, Tseng Li-Ting, Tsai Tsung-Han
  Cast: Doze Niu, Janine Chang, Ke Huan-Ru, Chen Hei-Sheng, Wu Kuei-Chun, Lien Yi-Chi, Tsai Hsin-Hung, Chu Zhong-Hang, Ding Ning, Wang Li-Jen, Xiu Jie-Kai, Ethan Ruan
  The Skinny: A biting look at the Taiwanese entertainment industry, actor-director Doze Niu's feature directorial debut is a narcissistic but self-deprecating reflection of real life.
   
Review
by
Kevin Ma:
Movies about making movies traditionally have a rather tough time achieving commercial success. Perhaps that's due to the general public's general lack of interest in the moviemaking process, or perhaps it's because audiences don't buy the "woe is me" attitude that filmmakers tend to have when dealing with challenges like pretentious artistic integrity and pampered superstars. Taiwanese actor-director Doze Niu's What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? has an even bigger challenge, because Niu's film is a mockumentary about the making of the film. To take things even further, everyone involved in the process in real life, including Niu himself, is playing their real-life counterparts in the film. As a result, the film constantly toes the line between blatant artistic masturbation and savage self-deprecation.

For those out of the loop, Doze Niu is one of the most successful actor-turned-directors in the Taiwanese entertainment industry. After a 20 year-plus acting career, he started directing television dramas in 2000, and has since made successful series such as Come to My Place, Say Yes Enterprise, and the recent Wayward Kenting (Niu's own work, as well as other popular Taiwanese dramas, are mentioned throughout). The film opens during a night of drinking and profane chatting with friends, when Doze comes up with an idea for a mockumentary film that will tear a new one into everything that is wrong with Taiwanese society, which means the politicians and the media. It will even climax with someone crashing a car into the presidential residence, which sounds like the words of several drunk and pissed-off men than something a low-budget independent project can pull off.

Amazingly, the project lands a government grant, but Doze's tired girlfriend Ning-Ning (Janine Chang, as herself) can't even be bothered to care. With a small crew ready, Doze dives headfirst into planning and shooting the film, but various disasters begin to pile up almost immediately: His leading man bails on the project, the company runs out of funds, and his producer disappears, prompting Doze to turn to his mother and shady businessmen for money. When Doze does start shooting, he can't even get the footage he wants because of an incompetent crew.

The first half of What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? is a biting satire on the Taiwanese entertainment industry, as drugs, alcohol, and sex are all used as favors and to gain favors. Doze starts off as a kind of a jerk, an egotistic and self-absorbed artist who's convinced that he'll make the next low-budget blockbuster. However, the obstacles in his way and his determination make him a compelling protagonist, and the one scene where we see actual filming going on is actually the funniest scene of the entire film. As a look at the difficulties of filmmaking, What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? is far from artistic masturbation.

However, the film is a complete failure as any type of documentary. Even mockumentaries would try to simulate the look of a documentary, with the camera acting as an observer and its presence acknowledged. Niu almost never bothers to recreate any documentary style here, with all the actors acting as if there are no cameras present, while those same cameras also seem to show up for even the most private moments. Everything that happens in the film is supposedly real (or at least, it's supposed to reflect something that really happened), but most scenes appear staged with a strange simulated handheld effect present in each shot. Niu completely erases any trace of the mockumentary style in the second half, as his professional disasters begin to take a toll on his private life.

At that point, the film completely shifts to a melodrama that sees the leading man drowning in drugs, affairs, and other personal disasters that make him reexamine his life. The "woe is me" attitude comes out in full force as Niu puts his personal relationships front and center. As the star, director, and co-writer, Niu channels a subconscious narcissism, as his character digs himself deeper into the hole he's created to set up the profound transformation that shows that he's ultimately a pretty darn good man. The transformation takes the film into a long third-act digression that seems to be written in to satisfy the audience that doesn't care about the filmmaking process. It's also the section that rings the most false, despite having the most emotions. However, if even half the events in the second half are true, Niu should also be credited with having the guts for presenting such a savage self-portrait.

What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? was a surprise contender at last year's Golden Horse Awards, earning four nominations including Best Picture. The acclaim from the Golden Horse committee wasn't surprising since it doesn't have many selling points for foreign viewers with no knowledge of the Taiwanese entertainment circle or its political world. Those well-versed in the latest Taiwanese celebrity gossip will be delighted to see some of those real-life rumors about Niu and Janine Chang mentioned throughout the film. Niu manages to juggle two elements here, making a film that that can resonate with aspiring filmmakers worldwide without losing its distinct Taiwanese flavor. Even though it's not exactly what it proclaims itself to be, What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? is a compelling exposť of filmmaking that general audiences can care about. It may still be artistic masturbation when it's all over, but Niu has certainly done enough to earn it. (Kevin Ma, 2008)

   
Availability:

DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
Mo Shi
3-Disc Director Collector's Edition
4x3 Letterbox
Original Mandarin Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

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image credit: taiwancinema.com

   
 
 
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