Cast: Brigitte Lin, Charlie Chin, Hsieh Ling-ling, Wan Shan
After a string of experimental shorts and a graduate degree in film from UCLA in the 1960s, Richard Chen Yao-chi became one of the most reliable directors of the youth romance genre that captured audiences in 1970s Taiwan. Often adapted from the work of author-producer Chiung Yao, these films were derided for their formulaic love triangles and apolitical emotional decadence. But the new restorations of Chen’s experimental work presented at this year’s Taiwan International Documentary Film Festival give us an opportunity to revisit the romantic melodrama in light of the aesthetic experimentation and generational change sweeping Taiwan in the post-war decades.
With its Feng Fei-fei theme song, its tormented take on impossible romance, and Brigitte Lin and Charlie Chin as the leads, Chen’s MOON FASCINATING, BIRD SWEET (aka The Misty Moon) seems a prototypical Chiung Yao adaptation. Lin stars as Ling Shan, a schoolteacher who notices a neglected child living next door. She soon discovers that the girl, Chu Chu, is subject to emotional and physical abuse from an oft-drunk single father, Peng-Fei. As Ling Shan and Peng-Fei face off in a battle of parenting practices, a masochistic attraction develops: she is drawn to the challenge to show him up, he to the chance to be proven wrong. There is a third figure though: Chu Chu’s mother, absent from the girl’s life but not from her father’s mind.
The young lovers act on whims, treating love as high stakes gambling. Romancing here is an impulsiveness that courts misunderstanding, crumbling families, and the likelihood of loneliness. While mainstream Taiwan cinema of the time mapped out “healthy” family structures aligned with ethics and national stability, films like MOON FASCINATING, BIRD SWEET expended emotional energy on seemingly wasteful ends: love, and not even great love at that. As with fellow overseas-trained director Pai Ching-jui, Richard Chen interrupts the generic renderings with deranged montages of aesthetic excess, impulsive and prickly inheritors of the 1960s avant-garde.
* All Taiwan Film Showcase screenings at UCSD are free for UCSD staff, faculty, and students.
As Richard Chen Yao-chi was finishing his film degree at UCLA, he returned to Taiwan to direct this pathbreaking short documentary featuring three college students shooting the breeze in the mountains of Hsinchu, shedding light on 1960s youth and their thoughts on art, the Vietnam War, and their place in a changing Taiwan. Shown in a new restoration.