Dust in the Wind 戀戀風塵begins with a train ride through lush foliage, the vibrant greens enveloping the screen. It’s a picture-postcard introduction to the northern mining town of Shifen which, situated amidst natural beauty, is suffering economic decline as the mining industry fades.
Shifen is home to Ah-yuan and his girlfriend Ah-yun, both of whom feel the pressure of their families’ economic hardship and find work in Taipei to help make ends meet. Things in the big city are different from back home. There’s a sense of liberation but more than a hint, too, of a new kind of incarceration. Every time Ah-yuan visits Ah-yun’s tailor’s shop where she works as an apprentice seamstress, we see him looking up at her through iron bars. From now on there will always be something between them, even if it’s just in the form of more outgoing friends sitting between them over Taiwan beers. Eventually, Ah-yuan has to leave for him military service, where their relationship will be tested by distance for the first time.
He dislikes the idea in general that he can’t simply continue their relationship in the same monosyllabic passivity which worked out okay back home.
Ah-yun clearly adapts to the big city far better than does Ah-yuan, whose perpetual blankness makes it difficult for the audience to feel much sympathy for him. He dislikes the fact the Ah-yun drank a few glasses of beer. He dislikes the idea in general that he can’t simply continue their relationship in the same monosyllabic passivity which worked out okay back home. In one memorable scene, his artistic friend offers to paint a design on Ah-yun’s shirt. After pausing a moment she stands and disrobes to her undershirt. The act is done neither flirtatiously or defiantly, but there’s a sense that something has changed. Ah-yuan, seated, looks on, probably wondering what has just happened.
Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien juxtaposes the trials of human life with lingering shots showing the beauty and indifference of the natural world, which sometimes reminded me of a Terence Malik film. The effect is ambiguous. Whether in Shifen or on Kinmen island where Ah-yuan serves as a soldier, nature is presented nostalgically and with a constancy that belies the changing lives of Ah-yuan and Ah-yun, and the society shifting around them. For me, this sometimes seemed to undermine the central narrative rather than complimenting it.
this is not Hobbiton, nor is the film a Luddite’s protest against progress
Dust in the Wind chronicles a time of change for the region. But despite the sometimes romanticised view of life in the countryside, this is not Hobbiton, nor is the film a Luddite’s protest against progress. Ah-yuan, who in some ways seems to represent the old guard, might query the value of Shifen’s makeshift outdoor cinema we see being put in in early scenes, but most of the residents seem to be having fun. And Hou Hsiao-Hsien himself could hardly object to this particular form of modernity.
- Runtime: 109 mins
- Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien
- Language: Mandarin/Taiwanese
- Year of release: 1986