Film review: Touch of the light

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 April, 2013, 9:06am

Starring: Huang Yu-hsiang, Sandrine Pinna, Lee Lieh
Director: Chang Jung-chi
Category: I (Mandarin, English and Cantonese)

Music and dance, one an art that is primarily aural and the other weighted towards the visual, take on symbolic significance in a Taiwanese drama that charts a fluid course between fiction and reality. At the calm centre is Huang Yu-hsiang, a blind pianist and musical prodigy playing a fictionalised version of himself as he negotiates the shoals of adjusting to urban Taipei and budding adulthood away from his rural home.

Expanding on his 2008 short, The End of the Tunnel, director Chang Jung-chi's feature film debut takes a potentially soppy subject and laudably allows pianist Huang's integrity, talent, and perseverance to shine without a viewer feeling overtly manipulated. The narrative by scriptwriter-editor Nyssa Li intertwines his journey with that of Chieh (Sandrine Pinna, above with Huang), an aspiring danseuse stuck in a humdrum job at a tea stall near Huang's college.

Despite Pinna's earnest performance, Chieh's story line never quite meshes with that of Huang, the platonic relationship between the beauty and the blind, a noble but contrived attempt to give the story some "commercial" pizzazz and a dash of sex appeal.

That this ultimately does not serve as an impediment to enjoying Touch of the Light is testament to the strength of the film's core message and Huang's self portrayal.

Meanwhile, the interactions between Huang and his mother (Lee Lieh) ring with an authenticity that is touching. Also powerful are the passages that detail Huang as he tries to maintain his independence after moving from the familial cocoon. The picture brings to life the challenges presented by such basic tasks as navigating the dormitory bathrooms and dining halls, and the mental burden imposed on requiring assistance yet not wanting to disrupt the usual academic routine.

A turning point is poignantly depicted when Huang's classmates first glimpse his skill at the keyboard, instantly transforming him in their eyes from "handicapped" to "genius". In view of his age and environment, the script's almost total avoidance of sex vis-à-vis Huang seems like a cop out, especially as Chieh and her seeing, more physically attractive circle are not so coy.

Fortunately, the director never loses sight of Huang and his forte. From a jam session utilising such unorthodox instruments as credit cards and magazines, to the climactic competition that shows the artist in top form, Touch of the Light is musically innovative and possesses a refreshing lightness of touch.

Touch of the Light opens today