The Most Distant Course

Bottom Line: Road movie explores existential loneliness against a backdrop of Taiwan's beautiful landscapes and soundscapes.

Taipei International Film Festival

TAIPEI -- "The Most Distant Course," the opener at the Taipei International Film Festival's New Talent Competition, is directed and written by Lin Jing-Jie. He originally developed the script around the life of his friend Chen Ming-tsai, an artist-performer known for his idiosyncratic personality. Before shooting began, Chen succumbed to clinical depression and drowned himself in the sea. Despite this tragedy, Lin's reverence for life flows through every scene, never belittling the suffering or insecurity of his characters.

The film juggles three narrative strands that do not come together at a convenient moment of closure. Rather, it is the points at which they intersect that appear most unforced and dramatically engaging. The film has definite potential for the festival circuit.

Xiao Tang (Mo Zi-yi) is a sound recordist whose life has fallen to pieces after his girlfriend leaves him. He embarks on a tour of Taiwan to record the island's sounds for the compilation of "Sounds of Formosa," a project the two dreamed of doing. Hoping that this will win her back, he ends up face to face with his own neediness.

Royun (Kwai Lun-Mei) has taken to drinking to numb the pain of loving a two-timing man. She becomes the recipient of Xiao Tang's tapes, and she takes off on her own island tour to trace the origins of these sounds. As she embraces new vistas, she also reaches for the truth of her own feelings.

Therapist Ah-tsai (Jia Xiao-Guo) has been a vessel for his clients' misery for so long that he is finally cracking up. To relieve his stress, he frequents brothels and rural "betelnut shops" to enact role-play games and "art therapy" with sex workers. With a three-year-old wedding invitation as his only lead, he hits the coast to look up an ex-girlfriend.

These lovelorn characters fumble to communicate with absent partners and drift into karmic connections with one another. Ultimately, they have to go the extra mile alone to find their raison d'etre. The leads' uniformly convincing performances make it a joy to accompany them on their journeys as we see them gradually open up and let go of their baggage.

Music is used sparingly to make room for the symphony of recorded sounds that punctuate the film. They become a metaphor for everything we take for granted and overlook in our surroundings because of our own introspection.

Interior scenes, which mostly take place in urban Taipei, often are shots of people in partitioned spaces that emphasize invisible walls between people -- Royun drinking in the room while her lover calls his other half on the balcony or Ah-tsai lying on a motel bed while Xiao Tang leans on the wall outside, crying. Outdoor location scenes are effectively contrasted. They are the stage where people bond with strangers and commune with nature.

Made on a low budget, the editing and sound are sometimes a bit raw, and the film's numerous locations and periphery characters give it a slightly fragmented impression. The director sometimes wallows in sentimentality, like the two-minute close-up of Xiao Tang crying about his ex.

Qixia Films Co.

Screenwriter-directer-producer: Lin Jing-Jie
Director of photography: Song Wen-Zhong: Art director: Wu Ruo-jun
Music: Zheng Jie-ren
Editor: Chen Xiao-Dong
Royun: Kwai Lun-Mei
Xiao Tang: Mo Zi-yi
Ah-tsai: Jia Xiao-Guo
Running time -- 110 minutes
No MPAA rating