Winds of September -- Taiwan

Bottom Line: A melancholy yet sweetly nostalgic male coming-of-age film.

Hong Kong Filmart HAS Screenings

Tom Shu-yu Lin's semi-autobiographical debut feature about the bonding, rivalry and eventual dissolution of a gang of high school boys captures both the palpitating heartbeat of youth and re-creates the tangible ambiance of a place and era -- the post-bubble IT town of Hsin Chu in mid-1990s Taiwan.

Having an authentic voice has helped override inadequacies of budget and local production conditions. Its sensitive, personal tone and vivid period details will provoke a ripple of nostalgia among Taiwanese viewers in their 30s. 

The first of the "Winds of September" trilogy produced by Hong Kong showbiz multihyphenate Eric Tsang, Lin's screenplay was the prototype that inspired Tsang to bring to fruition two more films using the same concept, made by new talents from Hong Kong and China. Lin could break out of the art house circuit in Chinese-speaking markets by capitalizing on Tsang's clout in the industry and the novelty of seeing how directors from three places tackle the popular Asian topic of youth.

The English title refers to the nickname of Lin's hometown Hsin-Chu -- Windy City. The Chinese title "Jiu Jiang Feng" is an old Hakka term for the wind that blows strongest in Hsin-Chu during the ninth month of the lunar calendar.

In 1996, a gang of boys in the last year of high school find solidarity in small rebellions like smoking, late-night skinny-dipping, and rooting for their favorite baseball team, the China Times Eagles. Their leader, Yen (Rhydian Vaughan), is a handsome and cocky womanizer with a heart as big as a pitching field. But when Tang (Chang Chieh), a less confident or popular boy, takes the rap for one of Yen's romantic indiscretions, what used to be admiration turns into envy. Two incidents, both involving motorbikes, test the gang's loyalty and personal integrity.

Just as Lin's award-winning short "The Pain of Others" (2005) anchors its plot about the hazing of army freshmen in the historic moment of Chan Shui Bian's presidential election in 2,000, personal crises in "Winds" takes place at the height of the baseball game-fixing scandal. Background news reporting on the prosecution of Eagles members casts a looming sense of disillusionment and betrayal over their halcyon days of youth.

Though Lin's homage to Edward Yang's "A Brighter Summer Day" is plain to see, he does not overreach himself to appropriate the same depth in socio-historical vision. Lin wisely condenses the drama into a few powerful scenes of emotional confrontation and sets them in ordinary locations like the rooftop, the KTV rental or the baseball field that are ordinary yet rife with meaning in the boys' world.

Consciously avoiding a macho style that emphasizes adolescent testosterone overdrive, the camera work by Fisher Yu is gentle, tenderly bathing the protagonists in softened lighting so as to accentuate their fragility of being still on the cusp of manhood. The song in the closing credits is "I Look Forward To," sung by Chang Yu-sheng, who died in 1997 -- an elegiac last touch of nostalgia recognized by most Taiwanese.

WINDS OF SEPTEMBER -- TAIWAN (Jiu Jiang Feng -- Taiwan Bian)
Produced by Film Mall/Ocean Deep Film/presented by See Corp., Big Pictures, Ocean Deep Films
Sales Agent: Mei Ah Entertainment Group Ltd.
Credits: Writer-director: Tom Shu-Yu Lin
Writer: Henry Tsai
Producers: Eric Tsang, Yeh Jufeng
Director of photography: Fisher Yu
Art director: Lee Tien-Chue
Music: Blaire Ko
Costume designer: Sun Hui-Mei
Editor: Chen Hsiao-Dong
Yen: Rhydian Vaughan
Tang: Chang Chieh
Yun: Jennifer Chu
Hsing: Wang Bo-Chieh
Pei-Pei: Chi Pei-Hui
Running time -- 105 minutes
No MPAA rating