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November 24, 2014

Touch of the Light

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Ni guang fei xiang
Chang Jung-chi - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Like the use of color in the film, any drama in Touch of the Light is muted. Based on part of the life of blind pianist Huang Yu-siang, there are no crushing lows or overly triumphant highs. There is an ebb and flow of small obstacles and modest victories, giving the story some more of a sense of reality.

Chang and Huang knew each other at the university they were attending in Taipei. A documentary short made by Chang of Huang was seen by Wong Kar-wai who encouraged Chang to make a feature. The film is about Huang's first year away from home, with both the challenge of being the first blind piano student in Taiwan's university system, as well as learning how to live somewhat independently. The story is given a dramatic framework by cross-cutting with a story about a young woman, Jie, who has all but given up on her dreams of being a professional dancer, slogging through life working at a juice stand. The blind pianist and the aspiring dancer meet when Huang is spotted having difficulties crossing a busy intersection. While there is no romance, at least in the traditional sense, the low-wattage sparks between Huang and actress Sandrine Pinna seem to have been enough to help the film's commercial viability in Asia.

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From the little in English that I've been able to read, the inclusion of Jie was not the only fictionalized part of Huang's life as portrayed in the film. What does seem truthful is Huang's reluctance to participate in competitions, where the students demonstrate their musical abilities in the form of small ensembles. That reluctance stems from both the assumption stated by some that have Huang winning as a kind of compensation for being, as well as the self-doubts created by overhearing that assumption expressed. Not stated in the film, but known to that Taiwanese audience, is that Huang has validated himself as a professional musician.

Chang does makes some interesting choices visually, using out of focus shots to convey Huang's visual impairment, as well as use of sound which for Huang was highly developed, be it the tinkling of ice, the rumbling of motors, or scratching the surface of a wall. Quick shots of hands and legs emphasis life as a tactile experience. One humorous scene has Huang playing a percussive version of "Flight of the Bumblebee" by tapping against his mouth and teeth. Huang also contributed to the film's score. Someone in Taiwan was observant of Hollywood's habit of awarding Oscars to movies about the physically challenged, with Touch of the Light offered as the Foreign Language Film submission last year.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 24, 2014 07:35 AM