Apostles
R1 - America - Breaking Glass Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th February 2023).
The Film

Apostle to Socrates and Plato, philosopher Professor Ming (Jach Chow) known to his followers as "Antonio" is finding the prospect of death in the no-longer-abstract hard to face and decides to invite twelve young men "of any sexualities" to a "ruleless utopia" on the Seto Island Sea in Japan to explore "the possibility of afterlife, the world after death, to solve the ultimate myth of life" and become his own apostles. Through a series of seminars in which Antonio ruminates on different theories of the afterlife, his students model Jay-Todd Chih, stage performer Wing (Owen Wu), commander Katashi Yugo, mute Teslin, cinematographer Bank Chuang, diplomat Voon Khoong Lew, construction worker Qiji Chen, psychology student Alcibiades (Christopher Tsang), ballet dancer Wei Kai Hueng, insurance agent Phone (William Lo), and undertaker Canto Zhou relate their own (often sexual) experiences with the ghosts of lost loved ones, of restless spirits who can do nothing more than their routines when living, the possibility of reincarnation, and of their own yearnings to transgress living flesh. Antonio has his own sexual sessions with each of his disciples but finds the pleasures of the flesh overshadowed by his own thoughts of impending death. Meanwhile, his long loyal wife Madonna (School on Fire's Amanda Lee) starts to find the novelty of playing "godmother" to so many virile young men wearing but receives a beautiful gift from family friends "sister" Swan (Moe Chin) and her husband Gavin (Gavin Philip Che), a sacrifice considerably more loving and sweet than the one Antonio demands of one of his students to prove the immortality of the spirit and a "communion" that will set apart from the true believers from the non-believers.


The latest film from Chinese filmmaker Scud d released the same year as Bodyshop (not yet released in the US) Apostles is difficult to speak about without reference to several of the films that came before it, particularly Utopians and Adonis (although some of his ruminations on suicide, ghosts, and reincarnation look back farther to Voyage). Ming was introduced in Utopians which here becomes not a fully true episode in his life but either an autobiographical film or a film essay in his philosophy. The actor who played that film's protagonist Hins Adonis He then played a fictionalized version of himself in Adonis. In this film, he was always Adonis in clips from both films and Ming's first disciple, but Adonis the film is either a dramatization or a literal snuff film depicting the fate of Adonis the character (not the actor, thankfully). Other characters in the film are different from the characters they essayed in much smaller appearances in the earlier films particularly as extras in Adonis' porn shoots while the pre-existing relationships between Ming and his own retinue are also illustrated through what appear to be clips from earlier films but may not be.
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Despite Apostles seeming to be a self-referential culmination of a body of work, it feels more like a place-filler, less interesting and stimulating (intellectually and otherwise) than the films it references; and perhaps Scud is aware of this in then framing the film's reality through another "frame" later in the film as another of Wing's films; indeed, we only have the various international synopses to go on for the motivation of Wing facing death, so it may not be so much a health-related fixation on death as a philosophical one that confounds him when he seems otherwise healthy. Scud has cited among his influences to Pier Paolo Pasolini, Yukio Mishima, Derek Jarman, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder; however, whereas one could see homages to the latter three in Utopians, Apostles leans more towards Pasolini with its philosophical pseudo-seminars in a cloistered setting, but the film only edges towards Salo territory during the climax which seems like an extension of Adonis' most transgressive moment before ending on a lighter, optimistic note as at least some of the apostles turn away from death and look to the living for fulfillment. While presumably one would also need to have seen Bodyshop which the synopses online mention has to do with spiritual possession and sex, and has been referenced in Apostles, one wonders if Scud's next films will also work through variations on the same themes or if he intends to explore other themes with his next films.

Video

Shot in high-definition - specifications not disclosed - but also featuring clips from Scud's earlier films in which the difference in video quality is evident, the bulk of Apostles looks clean, sharp, and colorful bar the use of some digital filters and arty grading during flashbacks and cutaways.
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We are not aware of any Blu-ray edition as yet, but the Hong Kong and Taiwan Blu-rays of Scud's previous fils were subject to different degrees of censorship while the American DVD releases have been fully uncut.

Audio

The sole audio option is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that features dialogue in Cantonese, English, Japanese, and Putonghua while English subtitles are burnt-in (and sometimes transcribe accented English). Onscreen text is also in English and one wonders whether that is the case of all versions with Chinese subtitles added to the domestic versions or if this is only the case of the international version.
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Extras

There are no extras apart from the film's theatrical trailer (1:50) and bonus trailers which include three for Scud films.
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Overall

Given the self-referential nature of Scud's filmography in Apostles, one wonders if Scud's next films will also work through variations on the same themes or if he intends to explore other themes with his next films.

 


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