Taipei Story ★★★★

Given Edward Yang's prominence on the festival circuit in 1991 with A Brighter Summer's Day, and later in 2000 with Yi Yi, it's a shame how long it took for this earlier work to be restored. I saw the 4K restoration at BAM and it is _gorgeous_. The way that Yang frames his characters in static spaces is essential to understanding the relationships between them and their environments, in a way that the script and narrative can only glimpse at, and his simplistic methods of turning a bustling industrialized city into an empty landscape — and everyday events and celebrations into opportunities for introspective reflection — is his greatest strength.

Though Taipei Story depicts the degrading lives of a former baseball star and his ladder-climbing office-working S.O., the film doesn't linger too heavily on these details. Rather, it meanders quite apathetically towards their unseemly ends, enclosing them within windows, elevator doors, empty walls, and large, urban structures as they wander from one location to the next, looking for something to occupy their minds and bodies. In social crowds, they seem to fade into the background, muted and unattached to the physical reality around them. Faced with imposing industrial backdrops and unable to connect with the people they're surrounded by, it's a surreal mixture of two alienated humans existing on the fringe alongside scenes of elation and humorous everyday interaction.

Yang's ability to depict traditional Taiwanese life infused with westernized culture and industrialization is uncanny here. It brings with it a sense of comfort and familiarity for me, with Wei-han Yang's beautiful nightlife photography melding sweetly with both slow Chinese pop karaoke and wild "Footloose" dance floors.

Somehow, this is my first film from Edward Yang. It's a film that borders along the subliminal — a panorama of two characters whose presence is there on screen, but not often felt. Its tonality hits a spot somewhere between tranquility and wistful isolation, with a surprising amount of humor placed in moments of longing and reminiscence. As I work through Yang's filmography, I expect to find this early work a heavy indicator of what's to come: depictions of life in a changing society, sometimes tranquil, sometimes alienating, sometimes humorous, but often unexpected and a little bit bleak.

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