Dust in the Wind: Departure from Tradition into Minimalist Realism

Unlike the 1940-1960s stylized cinema from directors like Zheng Junli and Xie Jin, the mise-en-scene of contemporary director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s stark, minimalistic backgrounds and characters portrays a sense of isolation that Taiwan’s new generation might feel in this industrial world. In his 1987 film Dust in the Wind, Hou Hsiao-hsien follows the lives of rurally raised young adults trying to get ahead in Taipei. This movie is not specifically about good or bad people; in fact, the most prominent character is an anti-hero.This character is Wan, an introverted wanderer, who at the start of the film is working at a print shop amidst ominous noisy print machines. Wan has a girlfriend, Huen, who accompanies him through the city yet never openly displays any emotion towards him. These two characters transcend representation of Taiwan or China and instead become representations of the human experience.

If you recall a film like Two Stage Sisters, the most prominent sounds that come to mind include swelling music embodying melodramatic emotions and morals, whereas Dust in the Wind brings to mind sounds of quiet mundane characters who are trying to cope with their noisy environment. The din of machinery replaces an orchestral score in this movie. The audience hears trains whistle and rumble, traffic humming by, the heavy rhythm of printing presses, et al. Aside from this din’s function as tool of verisimilitude it serves to illustrate the characters’ desensitization. One of Wan’s friends relates a dream where he “was crushed by billboards falling from the sky,” a statement that embodies the subconscious fear man has of his artificial environment. The sound of this machinery is contrasted with the warm, safe, organic hum of the countryside: the buzzing of locusts; the echoing sounds of wind and rain; the crackle of fireplaces. Thereby Dust in the Wind separates urban and rural life with attention to their specific sounds in lieu of the aforementioned Chinese film which externalizes the character’s emotions with musical scores that drown out the background. This audible cue with regard to treatment of characters’ emotions demonstrates the introversion of Dust in contrast to the externalized psyches of Two Stage Sisters.

The differences in morality between Dust and Crows and Sparrows, is that Dust in theWind has more flexible ethics and the characters are not burdened with angst. Wan’s grandfather in one scene says to Wan,”you’ve no sense of responsibility,” which unlike a similar statement in Crows is not a condemnation . This observational quote typifies the characters of this film. They are not burdened by a sense of responsibility to anything. Wan attempts to steal a motorcycle when his is stolen, which shows a lack of concern for the law. In contrast, The servant Mei from Crows and Sparrows must struggle with her sense of responsibility before and after she steals penicillin. Wan’s girlfriend, Huen, sends him a “Dear John,” letter after he has spent a year in the army showing her lack of responsibility to the institution of marriage and to love. In Crows and Sparrows the intellectual Mr. Hua’s wife dutifully and persistently atttempts to get her husband released from jail. Wan, as a member of the Army welcomes, nutures, and bestows as a gift his keepsake Zippo, upon a family of Chinese refugees. This care is a shift in the responsibility one would expect, the responsibility to humanity takes precedence for Wan, who embodies the Army during this scene. Therefore, even the army is portrayed with a loss of responsibility to its duty. In Crows, The army is symbolized by Mr. Hoa, the “monkey,” who presents the army as responsible for and concerned solely with policing the population and reinforcing its image as patriotic.


Last Updated on 02/02/00
By JR Kerr
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