A roughly twenty minute short animation, Night Bus makes the most of it’s runtime with a few twists and a mix of violence, tragedy and humor. I’ll admit, I found parts horrific but in ways that evoked elements of black comedy. Animated with a bit of noir underneath the surface, we start the story with a maternal monkey caring for her offspring while looking up at the moon. As the humans are introduced, barely any are given names, writer and director Joe Hsieh wisely realizes that their clothes and actions show us more about who they are then a name ever could. He also isn’t afraid to use our presumptions against us.
A handful of travelers get on a late bus when an ungrateful and snobby lady (Shu Fang Chen) announces that her necklace has been stolen. The obvious suspect is the lone man (Guo Gang-Sing) who sits alone hidden behind sunglasses, and my oh my, how quickly the situation escalates. Is it really our nature to treat a potential petty crime as a capital offense? The sad truth is that extreme events, however ridiculous or laughable, do seem to be occurring in more abundance.
As the supposed thief is attacked and tied up, I wondered what circumstances would change the situation. None of the characters appeared to have cell phones with which to record the event. Technology is limited and thus, it appears like no one is afraid of going too far in an evening that feels destined for tragedy. The first death occurs when the maternal monkey dies in front of the bus and the driver casually throws her carcass into the water.
The animation feels intentionally stilted, with the importance again being on what the characters do; not what lighting or facial details can be used. There are a few moments that stand out such as a wandering crab walking horizontally along the sand, becoming submerged by the water and then back above it as the waves recede. I have to commend Hsieh for following his themes through. Not overcomplicating the artwork has it’s benefits.
It would also be fair to assume that this is a broad look at how we treat nature. The bus driver describes the dead monkey as a “stupid animal,” as its child watches in horror. For him, the job is all that matters while the passengers are all focused on their own literal or hidden destinations. Death and violence are treated with more of a shrug than a woman losing some jewelry and miles from civilization, something seems to snap in the characters. I dare not reveal more about the plot as this is worth viewing. The sound design as blood and organs ooze is sickeningly cartoonish while the characters, not in typical cartoon manner, move slowly, awkwardly toward their fates. A disturbing thought to be sure.
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