Locust Review: Taipei’s Tensions Portrayed with Nuance and Grit

Depicting Taipei's Social Fault Lines with Authenticity and Care

The streets of Taipei, summer 2019. Mass protests are roiling nearby Hong Kong as citizens raise their voices against eroding democratic freedoms. Yet in Taiwan’s capital, life goes on for most. Among them is Zhong-han, a 23-year-old who spends his days washing dishes at a local noodle shop. Silent and watchful, he seems detached from the turmoil unfolding across the strait. But looks can be deceiving. By night, Zhong-han joins a gang carrying out shakedowns and robberies around the city.

In his directorial debut, Locust, KEFF peers beneath the surface of Taiwan and its mysterious young protagonist. Set during the climactic months of the Hong Kong protests, the film explores how political tensions ripple through personal lives.

As waves of change threaten familiar institutions, Zhong-han finds his two worlds inexorably converging. His burgeoning relationship with a coworker contrasts with his criminal activities, exposing inner conflicts left unspoken. Meanwhile, the noodle shop faces closure by an opportunistic developer, mirroring Taiwan’s unease over encroaching external forces.

Through subtle performances and moody cinema, KEFF’s film navigates the intertwined fates of individuals and societies in flux. Locust takes a suspenseful, symbolic journey across the fault lines of violence, corruption, and national identity in tumultuous times.

Silent Struggles in a Changing City

Young Zhong-Han keeps to himself, spending his days quietly washing dishes at a small noodle shop. But this gentle routine hides a second life under the cover of darkness. By night, Zhong-Han puts on a tougher mask as an enforcer in a notorious Taipei gang, carrying out shakedowns and assaults on command. On the surface, these two worlds remain separate, yet forces are stirring that will bring everything crashing together.

As unrest grows in nearby Hong Kong, change is also coming to Taipei. The noodle shop’s longtime landlord sells to a developer with ambitious redevelopment plans, aiming to squeeze out tenants like Ah-Rong. The owner and his wife have been like family to solitary Zhong-Han, giving him shelter, but now their livelihood is threatened.

But escapes from this pressure also complicate Zhong-Han’s life. A spark kindles with I-ju, a charming store clerk, drawing out the softer sides he keeps hidden. And beneath the gang’s violent activities lurks unease, as Zhong-Han begins to question his role in their criminal operations.

Liu Wei Chen is mesmerizing as Zhong-Han, conveying a complex inner conflict through subtle expressions and body language alone. Though silent, we understand his loneliness and growing discontent through his piercing stares and gentle interactions. Meanwhile, veteran actor Yu An-Shun is heartbreaking as Ah-Rong, fighting vainly to protect his restaurant as his precarious world crumbles.

Through these engaging characters, director Keff weaves a moody portrait of a city in transition. Old cultural bastions give way to sharp-elbowed progress, mirroring the uncertainty gripping Taiwan. How will Zhong-Han reconcile his dual lives amid this flux? And whose side will he choose when turmoil finally erupts from within?

Polarized Pressures in a Changing Society

Locust delves deeply into the social tensions that surrounded Taiwan in 2019. At this pivotal moment, the youth of Hong Kong were rising up against a corrupt system, demanding freedom in a way that profoundly impacted the impressionable Zhong-Han.

Locust review

Though he never joins protests, the film draws parallels between his desire to break free from outside controls and the spirit animating Hong Kong. Both feel trapped by powers that exert dominance through manipulation and fear. Zhong-Han’s gang utilizes such tactics in their shakedowns, mirroring the oppression Hong Kongers faced.

His outsider status as a mute also resonates with their struggle to be heard. His very name, signifying a solitary insect, speaks to feeling disconnected from mainstream society. Even amongst the gang, he remains an enigma—is violence truly in his nature or a coping strategy?

This duality is explored through contrasts between criminal influences like Kobe and new relationships offering alternative influences, like I-ju. Kobe sees brute force as the only means for the disenfranchised to seize power. Yet I-ju introduces Zhong-Han to gentler forms of solidarity and hope for change.

As political unrest sweeps the region, Zhong-Han must decide which path truly fits his identity. Will he continue conforming to society’s expectations through crime? Or will love empower him to define his own future, possibly by embracing his individuality in the way Hong Kong protests championed?

Locust compellingly portrays an individual awakening to questions of freedom and participation amid polarized societal pressures. Zhong-Han’s journey reflects how instability can birth new understanding or snap one further into obedience’s grip.

Capturing Complexity Through Visual Flair

Locust’s cinematography plays a pivotal role in telling Zhong-Han’s story without words. Danish director of photography Nadim Carlsen brings Taipei’s neighborhoods to life, from the cozy noodle shop to the city’s fading alleys. Neon-drenched night scenes pulsate with ambiguous energy, reflecting Zhong-Han’s inner turmoil.

Carlsen’s camera gracefully accompanies Zhong-Han throughout, understanding him better than words could. Simple moments, like gazing at rain-speckled windows, become windows into the soul. In fights and robberies, tension simmers through intricate setups before erupting with savage catharsis.

Yoshihiro Hanno’s score also does amazing work setting the tone. Melancholic piano perfectly captures the bittersweetness of budding romance. But in darker sequences, an unsettling electronic hum keeps viewers unbalanced. During one stressful meeting with the landlord, the rhythm quickens heartbeat-like until momentous release.

Of course, Liu Wei Chen deserves much praise for his nuanced physical performance without dialogue. Much is left unsaid yet understood through fleeting expressions and gestures. Early on, trees backlit to resemble swarming locusts beautifully mirror Zhong-Han’s inner conflicted nature. Later, in a climactic scene, all the turmoil bursting free in his eyes alone makes an overwhelmingly powerful statement.

Through their collaborative mastery of visual and aural techniques, Locust’s creative team brings depth to a story that could have otherwise felt shallow. They find meaning between the lines, bringing light to a shadowy soul and high-stakes drama to everyday struggles. It’s a beautiful marriage of artistry that leaves memories long after the credits roll.

Threading Complexity Through Silence

While Locust weaves together many moving parts, it’s the performances that give its characters humanity. Chief among them is veteran Yu An-Shun, who brings quiet dignity to restaurant owner Ah-Rong. Fighting vainly but vigilantly to keep his business afloat, Yu ensures even small moments resonate with hard-won warmth. His final scene passes the film’s beating heart to Zhong-Han in a poignant, profound way.

In the leading role, Liu Wei-Chen has the unenviable task of conveying layers of inner turmoil without uttering a single word. Through microexpressions and gentle mannerisms, he charts Zhong-Han’s journey with captivating subtlety. Early scenes speak volumes through Liu’s pensive, reflective gazes and physical disconnectedness from the brutality he commits. As cracks form in Zhong-Han’s façade, Liu imbues every glance and gesture with restless conflict.

Rimong Ihwar lends I-Ju an endearing spirit, which lifts Locust during her sweet scenes with Liu. Threaded throughout is humanity’s need for empathy in an unkind world. Wu Yi-Jung and Devin Pan likewise breathe life into supporting characters, ensuring even glimpses resonate. Their nuanced work elevates Locust above more superficial storytelling and brings sincerity to its consequential themes.

While Locust occasionally feels overplotted, this talented ensemble ensures its beating heart remains intact. Great performances can elevate even flawed films, and here they transport audiences with deft grace into each character’s hopes, fears, and fractured souls. That Locust finds poetry in their nuanced interactions, even when silence is their language, stands as a testament to its actors’ meaningful contributions, which linger long after credits roll.

A Story Finding its Voice

KEFF shows real promise with Locust’s compelling set-up and gripping first act. His exploration of Taipei’s socio-political turbulence feels fresh and insightful. Yet as events accelerate, potentially profound themes get lost amid excessive plotting. Like its conflicted protagonist, this debut seems unsure of how to channel simmering emotions.

In protagonist Zhong-Han, KEFF crafts an enigmatic lens on colliding cultures. But while Liu Wei-Chen excels in silence, around him, narration grows loud, where subtlety could serve powerfully. Analogies between Taiwan’s state-of-nation and Zhong-Han’s interior journey demand deeper reflection. Instead, convenient twists overwhelm potent symbolism.

Locust shines in its brooding atmosphere and human details. Its restaurant family and nuanced supporting turns linger vividly. Yet as darkness descends, color drains from characters reduced to schematic roles. As abuse of power corrupts even hopeful romance, don’t complex souls deserve more light?

KEFF clearly loves Taipei and understands the injustice that haunts the streets, echoing with distant protests. His stormy vision awakens thought. But as Locust searches for answers amid confusion, does it find only more questions? Potentially profound social commentary risks becoming background noise against overwrought machinations.

While Locust remains an ambitious work with seeds of tomorrow’s blossoms, as a first full-length, its voice finds a limit. But for a director so attuned to existence in the revolution’s shadow, maturity could yield much. With time and experience, may KEFF’s gifts shape stories as finely as his cityscapes—so others see themselves in visions that uplift and carry hope.

Finding Focus

Locust tells a timely story with its portrayal of Taipei’s simmering tensions. KEFF understands his characters and depicts their troubles with care. This debut shows real promise.

Yet in the end, the film tries to do too much. Its symbolism and social commentary get lost amid crowded subplots. What starts as a powerful exploration of marginalization instead spreads thin. Zhong-Han remains an enigma, and sidestories distracting from core relationships demanded more depth.

This is a shame, because KEFF demonstrates clear ability. His direction captures the mood and locales superbly. And the cast, led by a superb Liu Wei-Chen, immerses us fully in their worlds. With tighter focus on what matters most, these strengths could have shined brighter.

There are certainly lessons to learn, but there are also reasons for optimism. KEFF sees how society shapes the overlooked. His debut elicits thought and remains memorable for its glimpses of truth. With future works, he could excel if he stayed true to his vision over plot alone.

Locust shows a filmmaker to watch as he hones his craft. With more nuanced handling of meaningful themes, KEFF seems destined to guide others to greater understanding through story. For now, his potential remains if he chooses insight over incidents in works yet to come.

The Review


7 Score

While Locust tells a gripping story and shows flashes of brilliance, it ultimately tries to do too much and loses focus. KEFF has a keen eye for atmosphere and understanding of social issues, but the film would have benefited from diving deeper into its most compelling elements rather than spreading thinly across multiple subplots. That said, this remains an auspicious directorial debut that demonstrates real promise. With further refinement of narrative focus and character development, KEFF's future films could truly excel.


  • A compelling premise and setting that tackles relevant political and social issues
  • Strong atmospherics that immerse the viewer in Taipei
  • Intriguing lead performance by Liu Wei-Chen as the enigmatic Zhong-Han
  • Depicts the everyday struggles of marginalized communities in an authentic way.


  • The narrative becomes unfocused in the second half with too many distracting subplots.
  • Underdeveloped characters and a romantic subplot
  • Fails to fully explore its most thought-provoking themes and symbolism.
  • A predictable storyline that lacks dramatic tension

Review Breakdown

  • Overall 7
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