Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s second feature film Cheerful Wind is a touch more accessible and a good deal lighter-hearted than the latter fare which would win him accolades and adulation in equal measure. Nonetheless, this off-kilter romcom contains clear traces of his fingerprints, from the artfully framed shots, bright colours and bouncy soundtrack, to the quirky characters and unexpected plot curvature.
The film opens with a metacinematic gambit, as Hou (a director) films Luo-Tzu (Anthony Chan, himself playing a director) filming a group of young children set to appear in an advert for laundry detergent. The frivolous tone of the scene – which features an exploding cowpat – is a harbinger of things to come, as we realise the story centres on a rather bizarre love triangle involving Luo-Tzo, his photographer assistant Hsing-Hui (Fei Fei Feng) and Chin-Tai (Kenny Bee), a blind man who the pair initially exploit for their film, though it’s clear that Hsing-Hui harbours an attraction for him from the get-go.
Though all three are integral to the narrative, Hsing-Hui is undoubtedly the focus of the picture. Indeed, perhaps one of the most refreshing and enjoyable aspects of Cheerful Wind is its decision to foreground not only a female character, but one who knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to act upon it, regardless of what parents, lovers and employers may think. The lack of judgement of her free-spiritedness is commendable in a film from almost four decades ago, even if her actions do border on the morally dubious at times.
While the audience are likely able to guess the eventual resolution of the story from early on, they probably won’t predict exactly how it pans out. This offbeat novelty in the narrative, alongside flashes of almost childlike charm in the chemistry between Hsing-Hui and Chin-Tai are the film’s strongest suits as it bounds along from one scene to another. Some of it is dated, for sure; attitudes towards the blind are condescending at times, while the inane comedy associated with Hsing-Hui’s country bumpkin father and his inability to grasp Mandarin dialect are well past their sell-by date.
Having said that, it’s an enjoyably eccentric ride from start to finish, never taking itself too seriously even in moments where characters embark on life-changing paths or encounter serious setbacks. Add to this an endearing innocence that’s almost reminiscent of the work of Scottish favourite Bill Forsyth and Cheerful Wind will surely find a welcome home at this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh for any viewers keen to take in a romcom that doesn’t stick rigidly to the genre’s trite and cheesy roadmaps.
Part of the Taiwan Film Festival 2020