Also showing: Tu Duu-chih

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 May, 2009, 12:00am

Tu Duu-chih estimates he has done the sound for about 70 per cent of all Taiwanese films made in the past 20 years. This includes virtually every film by auteurs Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, several by Tsai Ming-liang, last year's box office record breaker Cape No7, and even the occasional student short. His many awards include the top prize for sound design at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival for Hou's Millennium Mambo.

Some top Hong Kong indie directors have begun to gravitate towards Tu's Taipei mixing desks, including Wong Kar-wai, who used him for Happy Together and 2046. Most recently, Ann Hui On-wah engaged him for the final mix of her realist family tragedy, Night and Fog.

Hui's film presents the plain-faced enigma of a middle-aged man who snaps, murdering his mainland wife and two children, then killing himself. It's the type of unvarnished indie cinema that Tu (below) has been associated with since he helped usher in a groundbreaking realist aesthetic in Taiwanese cinema in the 1980s.

'I do a lot of commercial films now too, like Kung Fu Dunk,' he says, referring to last year's hit. 'But for some reason, all these films come to me. Maybe it's because we have more of an indie spirit,' says Tu.

Now 53, Tu still wears a T-shirt to work and speaks in a robust voice that comes straight from his belly. His studio, located in a Taipei suburb, is a modern literati's mix of old wood, classic movie posters and hi-tech sound equipment. His Fairlight editing system is so state of the art that he says it would take any other Taiwanese house, including the Central Motion Picture Corp, at least five years to catch up.

Tu got his start about 30 years ago at the corporation, where he met both Yang and Hou and worked with them on their earliest films. In speaking about these things, he marks time with films rather than dates. His son, he says, was born while he was producing Yang's That Day, on the Beach (1983). He helped Taiwan's film industry usher in synch sound around the time of Hou's masterwork City of Sadness (1989), and he went fully digital with Hou's Cafe Lumiere (2003).

Something close to a film portrayal of Tu appeared two years ago in The Most Distant Course, a Taiwanese film that focused on three drifters, one of them a young sound man who records poems as he travels and mails them to the ex-girlfriend who has cut him adrift.

'He's using my tape recorder in the movie, the first one I ever used,' says Tu. 'It's more than 30 years old.

'I've never mailed recordings to anyone like that, but 20 years ago I would carry recording equipment with me wherever I went. Like if I were driving down a mountain road, I might think, 'This bridge looks interesting,' and then I'd go record the sound of water underneath.

'All sounds have a different expression,' he says. 'The ocean sounds different at high tide and at low tide. Even streets in Taipei sound different from each other.'

Tu's intense focus on naturalism was a perfect match for the stripped-down social realism that dawned in Taiwan with the work of Hou and Yang, whose earliest films relied little on music for emotional cues. But Tu's work has also showed great breadth, including his collaborations with Wong, whom he remembers 'would often play music while he was rolling the camera'.

'I don't look at what a director wants for music,' he says. 'I look at how much space for music there is in the movie.'

For Hui's Night and Fog, a focus was on capturing the everyday sounds of Tin Shui Wai, especially the clatter of street restaurants. Tu even asked Hui's location crew to provide extra recordings.

'I respect [Hui] a lot,' says Tu. 'She's both a good friend and a good director, and she gives me the space I need to do what I do.' Then he adds, with a soft smile, 'She trusts me a lot.'

As evinced by the hundreds of films under Tu's belt, Hui is not alone in trusting him.


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