Review: Yellow Box (2006)


Directed by: Huang Ting-Fu | 53 minutes | documentary

First of all, there is alienation. What is this movie about? “Betel nut” girls? They look like fifteen but dress like prostitutes. With their silk underwear, short skirts and long boots, they try to lure motorists to their glass house to sell their “betel nuts”, a kind of gum-like nuts that have been chewed on in Taiwan for 2000 years as a remedy for all kinds of ailments. The girls live in their glass houses, day in, day out. However, they are not prostitutes. They should only evoke the sexual fantasy that is apparently necessary to get an appetite for this nut variety. This becomes evident when one “betel nut” girl encourages another “betel nut” girl to wave at the cars. However, the girl does not dare. Despite her short skirt and sexy underwear, she’s way too shy for it. A beautiful human moment in a strange, almost inhuman world.

A documentary about these bizarre shops will baffle many viewers. The prudish East has its own forms of sexual fantasy and this is one of them. Young girls who look like prostitutes selling “betel nuts.” The most baffling thing about the film, however, is the amateurish way in which director Ting-Fu Huang approaches his subject. Amateurish isn’t even the right word. Distant and uninterested make better. The director seems to think this bizarre situation is the most normal thing in the world, which is understandable since Huang himself is from Taiwan. In his statement about the film, he first elaborates on the history of the “betel nut” and of the glass sales houses. And when he goes into the role of the girls, he gets no further than to say that life is depressed in such a glass house. The film reflects this idea. While the girls happily talk about their relationships, the camera is static, the images black and white. Huang often films the girls through a window, a glass or a mirror, to reinforce the idea of ​​the stuffiness in the cage. He approaches the girls from a great distance, perhaps himself afraid of really getting close to them and portraying them humanly. Apart from the aforementioned moment of shyness in a girl, we hardly get to know them. Huang does everything he can to objectify the girls, to reduce them to objects. Meanwhile, the girls seem to have easily adapted to their plight. They happily flirt with the motorists and talk to truck drivers who are in the area through a box. One “betel nut” girls proudly says that she is cheating on a boy and that her husband knows nothing about it. The other girl listens to her with fascination.

Underneath this optimism lies unprecedented depression in most girls. At one point, one of the girls confesses that she took drugs to get through the boring day. Maybe she’s just saying it to impress the other girl, but it’s clear their lives are tough. The “betel nut” girls are very interesting in their superficial cheerfulness, which probably hides a major depression. However, it seems as if director Huang wants to thwart our understanding towards the girls. He doesn’t even manage to convey their enthusiasm, let alone get into the real emotions behind them. What remains is a very one-dimensional and superficial portrait of an interesting and very bizarre subject.

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