Though it includes a few up-to-the-moment satirical elements – a pandemic has been poorly handled in Taiwan because the government did not want to impose a lockdown in an election year – and sometimes riffs on the Train to Busan trilogy, The Sadness is almost old-fashioned in its fast-paced, gory, outrageously misanthropic, blackly comic tone. It runs along the lines of the original versions of The Crazies and Rabid, but throws in the sort of cackling atrocity associated with Troma and a couple of horrors reminiscent of James Herbert circa The Fog. Too over-the-top to be truly upsetting, it isn’t overly concerned with not offending anyone – writer-director Rob Jabbaz doesn’t go so far as to show a demented salaryman skull-fucking a woman whose eye he has poked out with an umbrella, but he’s not prissy about implying this is happening below the edge of the frame. The hero rescues a bloodied man from a group of teenage baseball players who have been beating and torturing him on a small city court – only for the ungrateful victim to lash out because the barbed wire ball-breaking session has been interrupted (‘I was about to shoot my load’).
The non-fatal Alvin virus has gone through the population of Taipei, apparently no worse than a flu – but, a year in, it mutates into something like rabies, removing all inhibitors against bad behaviour and prompting the infected to become violent, torture-happy, sex-crazed, slobbering and gurning homicidal maniacs whose cheeks are wet with tears from their uncontrollable crying jags (explaining the title). The authorities can’t cope – the fate of the president is especially horrid – and even the uninfected don’t always go out of their way to act in a moral manner.
The film follows a likeable, attractive young couple. Kat (Regina Lei) goes off to work one morning, given a lift to the subway station by Jim (Berant Zhu), and then both are caught up in the escalating chaos. Jim has to fight off a neighbour who attacks with garden shears and snips off two of his fingers, and make his way across the city on a motorbike to rescue the girl. Kat is bothered on the train by a creepy suit (Tze-Chiang Wang) who pesters her with compliments as she’s trying to read Frankenstein, then turns nasty when politely rebuffed before succumbing to Alvin and becoming a ghastly antagonist who pursues her to a hospital where the staff are overwhelmed in an orgy of violence. This escalation from incel nuisance to unstoppable psycho makes Wang an effective poster boy for male awfulness – but a handy fire extinguisher helps Kat fight back, only for an even more appalling human villain to step up and become the main menace of the last reel.
It’s a series of gruesome skits, gags and shocks with thumbnail sketch characters – a cowardly subway official, the plus-size girl who loses an eye, a paranoid scientist working on a vaccine – and ranting dialogue (unusually, the sad can speak and become cartoonish, speechifying sadists). The two identification figure normals are thinly characterised – Kat may have a natural immunity, Jim doesn’t – but Lei and Zhu perform admirably in the circumstances, mostly having to play straight against actors who are allowed to ham wildly. After a few moments of quiet reflection, it’s relentless and gruelling – with only a few moments of eerie contemplation amid the carnage.