was an elegy to the pastoral life that was largely a sentimental memory for scores
of Taiwan’s poor urban-migrators. Yet, it counter-intuitively gave hope to many
who saw themselves in the young underdog couple and quickly became a touchstone
film of the Taiwanese New Wave. Although internationally recognized as an
auteurist masterwork, it would not be the same film without its cinematographer,
Mark Lee Ping-Bing. It would be conspicuous in its absence, so Hou Hsiao-hsien’s
Dust in the Wind (trailer here) duly screens as part of Luminosity, MoMA’s retrospective tribute to Lee.
in their village knows Wan and his girlfriend Huen are meant to be together, so
they feel safe temporarily focusing on earning money to send home from their
menial jobs in Taipei. At least, their lives are not as grim as those we
regularly see in the sort of documentaries that once screened in the currently
exiled Beijing Independent Film Festival. Wan even has a network of hipsterish
(by 1980s provincial Taiwanese standards) cronies. Nevertheless, the big city
remains a predatory environment. Co-screenwriters and regular Hou collaborators
Chu T’ien-wen and Wu Nien-jen even take a page out of De Sica’s Bicycle Thief when the motorcycle Wan relies
on for work is stolen. As if life were not challenging enough, he also has his
mandatory military service looming.
yet everyone endures. They make do and live with significant mistakes, but they
carry on. It is all quite naturalistic, both in terms of aesthetics and
content, but there were a considerable number of young, striving Taiwanese who
could relate. Like Hou’s Millennium Mambo,
the opening sequence of the train from the nearby city winding its way towards
the mountain village of Jio-fen has become iconic. Fittingly, it features
prominently Hsieh Chin-lin’s documentary survey of Taiwanese cinema, Flowers of Taipei, and Let the Wind Carry Me, a profile of Lee
himself, also screening at MoMA. However, unlike typical cinematic imagery of
trains penetrating tunnels, this tracking shot really is symbolic of mobility
quiet, Hsin Shu-fen eerily suggests all manner of emotions roiling beneath Huen’s
shy reserve. Opposite her, Wang Ching-wen resembles a young Lee Kang-sheng, but
his relentless sullenness is taxing. However, Li Tien-lu adds real heft and
dimension as Wan’s difficult but beloved grandfather.
Lee deliberately uses a muted color palate, but that makes the verdant green
foothills of Wan’s village pop like an impressionist painting (in fact, Lee
also shot Gilles Bourdos’s sun-dappled Renoir
screening later during Luminosity).
It is a lovely and influential film every serious cinema patron should catch up
with. Recommended for those who like their bittersweet movies more bitter than
sweet, Dust in the Wind screens this
Saturday (6/18) and next Saturday (6/25) as part of Luminosity at MoMA.
Labels: Hou Hsiao Hsien, Mark Lee Ping-Bing, Taiwanese Cinema