WTF ASIA 119: Taipei Story (1985)

You can fly if you’d only cut loose, footloose.

Available in Canada, Francethe United States, and maybe a few other countries. Approximately 120 minutes.

Chin has decided to move out of her family’s home and into an apartment of her own. As the movie begins, she is showing it to her boyfriend, Lung. Yes, their names are Chin and Lung. Since it is an empty apartment, the walls are bare and white like their clothes. While things have been somewhat stagnant at Lung’s fabric store, Chin seems to be moving up in the world. Ms. Mei, her immediate superior at the…building company, has promoted her to special assistant. This has given her the confidence to move out of her family’s home and into a nice new apartment Lung. He worries about the cost, but. Chin says that the promotion comes with a raise, so things should be fine by the time Lung returns from visiting his mother and sister in the United States.Taipei StoryWell, it turns out that things did not quite go as planned for Chin. The company made an error during a project, which lead to a company-ruining lawsuit. The only way to salvage anything was to accept a bid to get bought by another company. Chin does not understand the business philosophy of buying up a company that is facing a lawsuit, but whatever. This fiasco turned out to be too much for Ms. Mei, and she quit.Taipei Story 02Chin chats with the big boss, Ke. He had to accept fault for the mistake, and will be leaving soon as well. Ke looks out across the city. No idea anymore which building he worked on. All of the buildings look the same to him. Does it even matter anymore?Taipei Story 03Lung has returned from the States. He meets Mr. Lai, who is coaching a boys’ baseball team. Hey, remember baseball? The boys are not as good as Lung used to be when Lai was coaching him. Lai asks about Los Angeles. Lung says that it was similar to here…though he had mostly been hanging out with other Taiwanese and taping baseball games.

Lung tells Lai that he also spent a week in Tokyo before returning. He visited Gwan, a childhood friend of Chin and may have had a thing with Lung. Gwan had married a Japanese man named Kobayashi, but they divorced and have been in a custody battle for their kid. In any case, Lai thinks of retiring…concluding that he has no understanding of young people and has not even back when Lung was a kid.Taipei Story 04Lung drives over to Chin’s office and calls to her from across the street. It would have been more convenient for him to have parked in front of the building where she could more easily see her instead of making her search for him and then walk across the street, but she eventually gets to the car. She gives him a set of apartment keys.Taipei Story 05At her father’s place, Chin is looking through some old pictures and other items. He greets Lung and not-so-gently teases his daughter for moving out while still unmarried before telling her to get him a beer. Little wonder why she wanted to move out in the first place. He then tells Lung that he should get married to carry on his family line, since his sister is now part of her husband’s family. He also asks Lung to find someone to purchase his plastic products that others had rejected due to his corner cutting; Lung promises to ask around. Then the two of them go to see Lai. Before they go, Chin asks Lung if he went to Tokyo. He lies that he was just there for the layover. After they leave, Chin notes to her mother that Lung is becoming more like her father. Her mother does not want to get involved.Taipei Story 06Chin’s younger sister Ling comes home. She invites her to come visit her at her boyfriend’s apartment. Chin notices her green nails, which was actually from a marker as she cannot afford nail polish. Ling makes a smooth transition for a request for some cash.Taipei Story 07Back at the office, the incoming boss says that the new takeover will happen the first of next month and that there will be personnel changeups. He notes that Chin’s job as special assistant to Ms. Mei was strange, as she was neither secretary nor manager. He wants her to be a secretary, but she says that she can be a secretary anywhere and, thus, has no reason to stay. So that is that.Taipei Story 08Chin returns to her apartment. It is the middle of the day and the walls are still white, but it is dark. She tries to call Ms. Mei, but is unable to contact her. So she does some exercises and then naps on the floor.  At night, she calls Lung, but he is unreachable. Lung is at some Japanese karaoke bar with some buddies. She goes back to the office to see Ke. He invites her to go get a drink, something that she notes he has done a lot, but he suggests that they get something to eat. So, they do. Later, Ke returns home to his family and his wife serves him more food. Ke, you dog.Taipei Story 10Chin returns home to see Lung watching one of his taped American baseball game. She seems…a little annoyed that he does not ask why she was out late. Then she tells him that she is out of work and will take a little break before finding something else. He offers to lend her money. After all this time together, she says, he doesn’t know what she needs. She doesn’t need anything. Maybe just for him to talk with her. What was America like? Chin had worried that he would not return. What if they both moved to the States?Taipei Story 11Lung says that there would be no point; that he would need a lot of money to become business partners with his brother-in-law in the…erm…import business. Chin thought that his brother-in-law had always wanted to partner up. What is he like anyways? He’s over six feet and 220 pounds, Lung tells Chin. He started with little and now lives in a wealthy neighborhood that used to be only for White people and now has a lot of Taiwanese immigrants. Import business. He loves baseball and guns. Import business. He even killed a Black person once and was acquitted, most likely due to making it look like his victim was an armed intruder and claiming self-defense. This film was released in 1985.Taipei Story 12The next day, Chin meets with Ms. Mei. Ms. Mei hopes that Chin would stay with her, but tells her to grab at any opportunity that may seem better. She asks about Chin’s future with Lung and warns her against getting too involved with Ke. It is notable that Chin’s only real contribution to this conversation is saying that Lung is thinking of working with his brother-in-law in the States.Taipei Story 13

Chin goes to a somewhat run-down looking “abandoned” apartment complex looking for Ling. Apparently, this is where Ling lives with her boyfriend and their…uh…bohemian friends. She gives Ling some money, but asks what it is for. Neither really says anything, but it is likely for an abortion. Chin offers to let Ling live with her instead of in this dump.Taipei Story 16Lung is visiting Chin’s father, who outright asks him for money. Lung says that money is tight, but Chin’s father insists. Gotta respect the elders.Taipei Story 18Later, he…uh…runs into an old friend who just started working as a taxi driver for money. Lung asks if his wife is still gambling…yeah…can’t stop her. And with three little kids to take care of. His arm had got messed up from being a pitcher as a child. Things had been going downhill for a while and he was even jailed once. Cab driving is all that he has. Before he leaves, Lung gives his friend some cash for the kids. His friend tries to refuse, but Lung insists. At least his friend attempts to display a bit of dignity, unlike Chin’s father.Taipei Story 19At their parents’ house, Ling tells Chin that she wants to go to Japan. Meanwhile, their mother sits in saddened silence, not responding when Chin asks if something is wrong with her father’s business. The next day, she withdraws some cash from the bank and gives it to her mother, telling her to keep it a secret. She also gives her mother cab fare, though her mother ends up taking the bus.Taipei Story 20Lung meets Chin at a pub, where she introduces him to some of her friends. The three guys in the group give him their business cards, and he apologizes for having none to give them. He feels uncomfortable and slinks away to the bathroom almost immediately. Taipei Story 21When he returns, one of Chin’s louder friends, Allen, challenges him to a game of darts. Lung says that he will have to leave soon, so Allen tells him that he can leave immediately if he wins, but will have to stay longer if he loses. Allen gets pretty much all bullseyes, so Lung will owe up to four hours if he does not get any bullseyes. Lung fares terribly, and Allen acts shocked, given that Lung had previously played baseball. Lung was already feeling emasculated, and the baseball comment sets him off, so he attacks Allen. The other guys in the group intervene, but even that is not enough.Taipei Story 22Lung and Chin leave, returning to the apartment in silence. It seems as if everything Chin was going to say, she had already said. Eventually Lung quietly asks if the incident reminds her of when he would get into fights at school. He says that he does it to stick up for himself, as well as for justice. Maybe they should move to the States. Maybe he can sell his old family house. No one lives there anymore.Taipei Story 23

This is the second feature film from Edward Yang and, contrary to what some might think when they see that name, it has the perfectly manageable runtime of two hours. Still, yes, the movie is slow paced and has a lot of shots just of buildings and stuff.

Like many Yang films, this centers on the struggles of middle class Taiwan in current times, even using a piece of news as inspiration for the story. In this case, the focus is on a couple who is trying to stay together even as their lives are drifting apart. I am not entirely sure if the age difference (around 27 and 37) was meant to be that wide in universe, but it would make sense, even though they seemed to have known each other as kids. Chin seems to be forward-looking, hoping against hope for a brighter future and desperate to leap into the unknown, even as opportunities around her either dry up or announce themselves as not good enough for her. She has to mask her fears with lots and lots of sunglasses.Taipei Story 01Meanwhile, Lung is a man whose best years are long behind him, and he longingly sits around thinking of his glory days as a child baseball star, and maybe a past relationship that did not work out. But mostly his baseball childhood; watching baseball games; watching his former coach continue to coach a boy’s baseball team. And then sitting in his fabric store doing nothing. His routines mask that he is a man adrift. And while Chin is trying to escape the shadow of her own father, Lung seems to get dragged further into that man’s orbit, just as his own father had so many years ago.

It comes as no surprise that Chin’s father is rather shady, has been associating with shady people, and has increasingly alienated less shady people. Of course, he is far from the only person to have an ambiguous relationship with legality. What little we know of Lung’s brother-in-law makes him come across like a utter criminal who is trying to string Lung along just to rip him off. His old friend struggles with his wife’s rather extreme gambling addiction. Ling’s friends seem like amiable free spirits, but there is a dark side to them as well. Even the lawsuit-inducing error at Chin’s company and the corporate takeover may have seeds of crime somewhere in it; in it. It is interesting to note that the man who portrays Lung is Hou Hsiao-hsien, who is himself a Taiwanese director, screenwriter, and producer. I believe that he had said that he had associated with gang members in his youth and would have become one himself had he not found his calling in filmmaking.

Yang’s Taiwan of 1985 is one of uncertainty. It is being held down by traditional values, but the future just seems to be discarding everything. What would be the identity of Taiwan? Would it keep its own thing? All around Taipei are signs of Japanese influence, perhaps a holdover from the occupation during WWII. All around Taipei are signs of American influence, with which it has a strange relationship, being a stalwart fellow anti-communist nation. Both America and Japan love baseball, which became the foundation of the past to which Lung clings as his life slowly devolves. With so much music, technology, and culture coming in from these two foreign powers, what does Taiwan itself have to offer? Well…maybe not much, unless you like needing money to give to other people. Lung’s mother and sister left for America, supposedly never to return. Meanwhile, his childhood ex has left for Japan and Chin’s sister wants to go there as well.   Taipei Story 17If leaving is such an enticing option, then what is home? Is Chin’s new apartment meant to be a long-term residency or just a safe haven away from her father? What memories does Lung hold of his family house that no one lives in anymore? What makes that abandoned building where Ling hangs out with her friends worse than Chin’s apartment complex or any of the buildings that Ke dismissed as being the same?Taipei Story 14While not exactly a film of sunshine and rainbows, this movie is not exactly sad. It is more one of quiet uncertainty and reflection. If you have the patience (again, it is two hours instead of three or four) to let it take you on a slow and sometimes unclear journey, you might enjoy it.Taipei Story 01 a

WTF ASIA 120: Tunnel (South Korea: 2016, approx. 126 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadaFrance, the United States, and maybe a few other countries.

WTF ASIA 121: Bad Genius (Thailand: 2017, approx. 130 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and maybe a few other countries.