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Taiwan’s nomination for the Foreign Language Oscar is a heart-warming tale that recaps in fictional form the life of Huang Yu-siang, a blind pianist who befriends a young dancer and encourages her to achieve her dream. Co-produced by Wong Kar-wai and Jet Tone Films, this debut feature directed by Chang Jung-chi has done good business domestically and should travel well to related regions after winning the Audience Choice award at Busan. It may be too sentimental and old-school to entice audiences far beyond that.
The fact that Huang plays himself in the film lends a great deal of credibility to the music. This is, in fact, the third part of a trilogy on young Huang’s life, which began with the shorts Prelude (2005) and The End of the Tunnel (2008). In the feature, fictional elements prevail.
Yu-siang comes from a loving family from the country, but the moment Mom (Lee Lieh) leaves him at Taipei university to study music, he is on his own facing the challenges, rebuffs and very undramatic cruelty of the real world. His jolly roommate A-Qing becomes a pal and together they form a band to play jazz and classical riffs. When he meets the pretty Eurasian girl Jie (Sandrine Pinna from The End of the Tunnel) behind the counter of a juice bar, the stage is set for a music and dance partnership.
Jie yearns to dance professionally and her meeting with a dance teacher (dancer Sheu Fang-yi making her screen bow) puts her on course. But it’s only through the inspiration that Yu-siang gives her, directly and indirectly, that she tries out for the big leagues. The ending intercuts the audition on which her future career hinges with Yu-siang’s performance in concert competition.
Working with an incredible mass of clichés from other films, director Chang still manages to wring the heart in several scenes. Apart from a direct question from Yu-siang’s little sister, asking Jie if she’s her brother’s girlfriend, the screenplay steers a safe and easy course around any love affair between the two and depicts their mutual inspiration as pure friendship. Pinna is a bright, happy presence that complements the hero’s own innate optimism, expressed so naturally by young Huang. Many viewers will be happy to take home just the inspirational side of the story. But despite the cast’s appeal, their win-win joyfulness ends up feeling like an avoidance tactic to keep from looking at the darker side of things.
On the prejudice front, Yu-siang often recalls an envious comment made by a schoolmate who accused him of winning a music contest just because he was blind. This hurtful phrase from childhood has stayed with him, holding him back, and represents another hurdle for him to overcome. But this is hardly the stuff great drama is made of.
Tech work is okay if not exceptional, though Huang’s piano pieces are a joy to listen to.
Venue: Dubai Film Festival (Muhr Arab feature competition), Dec. 13, 2012
A Warner Bros. release of a Block 2 Pictures, Sil-Metropole, Wong Kar-wai presentation of a Jet Tone Films production
Cast: Huang Yu-siang, Sandrine Pinna, Lee Lieh, Hsieh Kan-chun, Lin Yu-chih, Wu Ya-jo, Sheu Fang-yi, Huang Ayugo, Yin Shin
Director: Chang Jung-chi
Screenwriter: Li Nien-hsiu
Producers: Jacky Pang Yee-wah, Cheung Hong-tat
Executive producers: Chan Ye-cheng, Song Dai
Director of photography: Dylan Doyle
Production designer: Wu Rou-yun
Music: Wen Tzu-chieh, Huang Yu-siang
Costume designer: Teng Yu-fang
Editor: Li Nien-hsiu
No rating, 110 minutes.
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