Although all Edward Yang's films deal with similar themes, characters and milieux, it has been common to divide his work into three relatively distinct categories - the multi-character panoramas (e.g. 'Yi yi', 'A brighter summer day'); the satiric comedies (e.g. 'A Confucian confusion'); and the formalist, Antonionian studies in urban alienation (e.g. 'The Terroriser'). These latter are the most difficult to watch, with narrative rigorously fragmented, characterisation distant, the ugly, monumental urban backdrop dominant. On the surface, 'Taipei Story' seems to belong to this category. Its opening sequence is similar to the tone of 'the Terroriser'. A couple are checking out an empty apartment the woman hopes to move in to. Yang emphasises the inchoate nature of the apartment, its emptiness, its forbidding whiteness and angularity - the first thing you notice about an empty apartment is how many walls it has. The woman talks a lot about what she hopes to do with it, but the characters' expressions are as blank as the rooms that surround them. We wonder if the apartment is a projection of their relationship's hollowness, or a sign of its future, its beginning, something to be filled up with life. Yang's way of filming his characters in this space, blocking them off from one another by walls, framing them in doorways etc., certainly seems to suggest a distance in their relationship. After all, the man is just about to go to America on a business trip - this very ritual of togetherness is shadowed by an upcoming rupture. As in 'Terroriser', there is something almost metaphysical about this scene, which seems to be about the material (walls, floors etc.). There are traces of previous occupants. The woman talks about what she intends to do with the room. Yet between the past and the future, these characters exist in a very empty present tense, ghosts in the house of predecessors and future selves. This feeling of being and yet not being quite there is quite familiar in Yang's work - we see it in the dream narrative of 'Terroriser', for example. One of his most recurring devices is to film action in window-reflections or mirrors, visualising the theme of alienation so central to his work (alienation from family, work, city etc.), but domesticating it, showing that the bigger alienations start with an alienation of the self. The vast jungle of the skyscraper-laden city is thus a literally monumental backdrop for the human shadowplays that comprise the drama. As in the best novels, the best films crystallise their thematic and narrative intentions in the opening scene, which is why this sequence is so important. It also structures the narrative to come, which will chart the fragmentation of the relationship, and the separate, doom-laden destinies of the lovers. But although everything points to 'Taipei story' belonging to the third category, there is a humanism at work that brings it closer to the first. In 'Terroriser', the characters' lack of character was a crucial thematic element, but made it difficult for the viewer to be interested in their fate, forcing him/her to concentrate on their formal properties as part of the overall mise-en-scene. In 'Taipei story', as in 'Yi Yi', we are closer to 3-D characters, we are given insight into their personalities, their histories, their desires, their frustrations. We see them at work, at play, at home. We see them interacting with the city, even as they are defeated by it, rather than simply ground down by it. this is not to suggest a softening of Yang's formal rigour (there is none of the saccharine miramaxmusic of 'Yi yi' for instance), but in this case it is poignantly counterpointed by the characters, used to express their predicament, rather than a more abstract theme. Yang's greatest strength is the way he can turn a teeming city into an empty dreamscape, or turn the familiar everyday into something uncanny by moonlight. He could almost be a Surrealist.
Lung is a former member of the national Little League team who lives with his old childhood sweetheart Ah-chin, a traditional family woman. Although they live together, Ah-chin is weary of Lung's past liaison with another girl.
May 11, 2020