Tsai Pojie, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Ah-Chung (1998) is director Zhang Zuoji’s first film. Zhang was named “Best Director” for Ah-Chung at the Thessalonica International Film Festival, and the film was honored with awards at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, the Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the Busan International Film Festival. Ah-Chung tells the story of a working-class youth living in a village on the Guandu plain in northern Taiwan. Centering on protagonist Ah-Chung, the story also touches on various aspects of Taiwanese culture – martial-arts troupes, local gangland leaders, and the lives of those at the bottom of the social pecking order – exposing a complex web of class relations.
Ah-Chung lives in a politically corrupt, gang-ridden fishing village. After he graduates from high school, his mother pulls strings to have him admitted to local martial-arts troupe, “Eight Generals,” the so-called guardians of the gods. She hopes that Ah-Chung can find work in their impoverished village rather than going elsewhere in search of employment, and that her sacrifice will avert misfortune and bring the family good luck. Thus, Ah-Chung – who has until now been rubbing shoulders with local underworld figures – daubs on makeup and picks up a feathered fan, transforming himself into an attendant to Taoist deities, a vanquisher of evil spirits.
But Ah-Chung’s family is still strife-ridden: His father and mother have been separated for many years; his father, a taxi-driver, rapes Ah-Chung’s older sister in a drunken stupor; Ah-Chung’s mother verbally abuses him; his mentally challenged younger brother mumbles all day about fishing for crabs in the river; his older sister’s boyfriend is knifed to death in a dispute between the leader of the “Eight Generals” and a rival. The people in Ah-Chung’s life quarrel incessantly, hurting themselves and others, always on the lookout for wrongs that have been done to them. All in all, there is little good to tell – a mood reflected in the film’s frequent shots of empty, gray skies and desolate riverbank.
At the film’s end, after his grandfather’s death, Ah-Chung moves on to the next stage of his life. No longer involved with the martial-arts troupe, he is sitting on the riverbank, having noisy fun with his sister and brother. His experience with the “Eight Generals” undoubtedly contributed to A-Chung’s transformation from a frustrated youth to a proud young man – what the troupe gave him was neither martial prowess nor a gangland sense of belonging, but simple courage and a belief in himself. After passing through the darkness of suffering, A-Chung has come into the light of a new life.
|Related Literary Themes：||Class in Literature|