Every year at the Lantern Festival in eastern Taiwan, half-naked men honor the god of Handan by submitting to a half-hour barrage of bottle rockets. What sort of catharsis, or acceptance, do they seek from this conflation of religious fervor and masochism? Its rumored that these so-called living Handans come from the ranks of low-level criminals, so gutsy documentary maker Ho Chao-Ti penetrated the Taidong underworld in search of answers. Her 2006 film The Gangsters God
, receiving its U.S. premiere in the small but potent Taiwan Film Festival
, follows three aspirants over nearly two years as they struggle with the difficulties of daily life on the periphery of mainstream society. The doc climaxes, as it must, with the stunning spectacle of the soul-cleansing Scorching of Handan ceremony. The filmmaker will be present for that awkward and often painful rite of passage, the post-screening Q&A, where queries are hurled in lieu of firecrackers.
Summer's Tail screens at 5:45 p.m.
Oct. 16-17, 2008