Taipei Story: Tears through the wide eyes

Boy, for a guy named Lung, Hou Hsiao-Hsien sure smoked a lot of cigarettes in the film!

This is my first Edward Yang film, which I mistook for his debut. I have seen most of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s recent work (which I love!), and I was curious to see why Yang is more popular than him. TS is a rather typical 80s-New-Wave-in-developing-country fare. India had a lot of that going on as well (termed as ‘Parallel Cinema’, as a response to Bollywood). Transitioning economy, intrusion of western culture & its effect on youth, generational gap, urban relationships & their complications, etc. Clearly, much of it seems autobiographical, as Yang draws from his experiences in US as well as from before moving there.
The film tries to touch upon all the aforementioned social topics, as much concerned about making the statements as it is about the individual characters, which are many. It’s fascinating how real these characters are. Even the mother, on-screen for only two scenes, who takes the public transport though her daughter has given her money for a Cab, to save a tiny amount of money, lingers on my mind long after I have finished watching the movie. Although, it’s difficult to state a ‘journey’ for each of these characters. They just have ups and downs. Their lives are running into one problem from another, whether the previous problem was solved or not.

However, I am not much fond of this narrative. I have lived through most of these experiences & surrounded by such characters, so I do relate to them but I have also watched them too many times to find TS novel. It’s a carefully constructed portrait of a certain time, specifically of a bourgeoisie class, and it is subjective how timeless it can be termed. Perhaps these stories perpetuate for every family, which undergoes this kind of transition.

Having said that, occasionally, Yang’s imagery held my attention. While, the European influence is quite evident, there’s a keenness to extend the famous Chinese aesthetic (which Hou heavily demonstrates in his films). At times it’s conspicuous, like the frequent city B-roll to justify the title, and at times it’s effortlessly innovative, full of emotional weight. That generational bridge is the core of the film for me. And a reason enough to dive deep into the sadly short filmography of the celebrated Edward Yang.

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