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DUST IN THE WIND (LIAN LIAN FENG CHEN)(director: Hsiao-hsien Hou; screenwriters: T’ien-wen Chu/ Nien-Jen Wu; cinematographer: Pin Bing Lee; editor: Liao Ch’ing-sung; music: Ming Chang Chen/Ching Chun Hsu; cast: Wang Ching-wen (Wan), Hsing Shu-fen (Huen), Li Tien-lu (Grandfather); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; International Film Circle; 1987-Taiwan-in Mandarin with English subtitles)
“The film is never able to be as moving as it is insightful.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This bleak coming-of-age family drama about the hardships of love and economics by noted Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou (“A Time to Live and a Time to Die”) falls below his usual high standards though it still manages a certain resonance. It is based on a true account of an early episode in the life of novelist and screenwriter Nien-Jen Wu (he starred in Edward Yang’s Yiyi). The film acts as a sociologist’s treatise and somber meditation on Taiwan’s unsympathetic urban society and also offers a severe criticism of the military system. Though performances are excellent and production values are more than suitable, the film is never able to be as moving as it is insightful.

“Dust” chronicles the lives of two young impoverished and uneducated high school lovers, Huen (Hsing Shu-fen) and Wan (Wang Ching-wen), who move from their backwater country mining town of Jio-fen to Taipei to get menial jobs in order to survive.

The proud Wan quits school and moves to the city first and finds work as a printing press operator at a family-run ‘ma and pop’ shop during the day and then as a motorcycle delivery boy. He ambitiously attends evening classes, as he strives to better his social position. After high school graduation the more timid Huen joins Wan in Taipei and obtains work as a seamstress at a dressmaking shop that includes room and board, allowing her to send a part of her wages home to her family. The young couple spend their remaining teenage years working hard in Taipei and spend their rare leisure time with fellow hard-pressed workers commiserating together about their sorry lot in life. They make regular visits back to their hometown, with Wan’s upcoming two year compulsory military duty looming as an obstacle before they dare marry.

One day, while taking Huen shoe shopping for her family, Wan has his most valuable possession stolen–his bike.This leaves him desperately without a job, so he roams the streets of the big city until he comes down with a severe case of bronchitis. Huen nurses him back to health, but then he gets called up for military service. Hou then asks if their love will be able to overcome their grim economic prospects and the harshness of their cultural environment, as the filmmaker wonders at the high price the individual must pay for industrial progress and asks us to reflect if it is worth it.

The film leaves deeply impressionable visual messages that linger long after seeing the film. There is the scintillating images from a speck of dust blowing in the train tunnel that eventually reveals a light at the end of a tunnel coming from an oncoming passenger train, a Buddhist ritual in front of a roaring ocean, and soldiers silhouetted against a darkened sky. There is one noteworthy scene of a frightened fisherman from the mainland who has to get his boat repaired, that is a scary reminder of how ominously close Communist China is to Taiwan.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”