When Hsu Bao-Ching, a passionate prison art teacher meets talented inmate Chao Cheng-Ting, he somehow manages to overlook the fact that the kid is a murderer. But his smiling fledgling eventually shows his true nature in The Painting of Evil. This first feature film by Chen Yung-Chi ponders how a beautiful painting can be denied because its artist did something bad. Can an artist and their art ever be separate? Teacher Hsu feels that Art is for Art’s sake, but he is also naive to the reality surrounding his favorite art student. He decides to hold a public exhibition of art made by his students but is met with a slew of angry protesters.
Currently, capital punishment is a hot topic in Taiwan. Chao is on death row for a crime that resembles the real-life 2014 murders by Cheng Chieh. The character’s crime leaves several people dead and loved ones to endure the backlash. Strangers beat up on Chao’s little brother, and torment his father until he commits suicide. Hsu finally sees that Chao shows a complete lack of interest for his victims, as well as for his deceased father. As a result, Hsu’s usual calm demeanor dissipates. Chao’s free-spirited brushstrokes both inspire and challenge the teacher’s own anger. On more than one occasion, Hsu exhibits uncontrolled behavior. It isn’t explored deeply, but one might assume the teacher has had his share of personal troubles. He is hearing impaired (portrayed by Deaf actor Easton Dong) and some people seem to stare at him as though he were stupid or slow. When one day Chao makes fun of his speech impediment, Hsu suddenly starts to understand. Though he is an advocate of art for art’s sake, he must come to terms with the concept of a good artist being a bad person.
Although it explores some serious themes, The Painting of Evil also makes some points about the commercialization of art and artists. Some “evil” lays right within the arts community. Artists are often pigeonholed and forced into pleasing a certain audience. Hsu represents the frustrated and somewhat unhappy artist. He doesn’t just make art. He feels it. In this way, he interprets Chao’s creations differently once their context changes.
“What I draw is a painting of evil. What you see is the evil of the painting.”
The Painting of Evil – 3 PM JST, November 8th, 2020 (Please note, screening times are in Japan Standard Time)