Chen Boqing, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Sound is the catalyst in director Lin Jingjie’s The Most Distant Course (2007). Recording engineer Xiao Tang (Mo Ziyi) wanders to Taitung on Taiwan’s east coast to tape the sounds of nature in an effort to win back his girlfriend’s love. What he doesn’t know is that she has already left her apartment, leaving no forwarding address. A new tenant, Xiao Yun, receives the tapes and is moved to embark on a search for the person who made them. Meanwhile, in the course of his travels, Xiao Tang has chance encounter with psychiatrist A-Cai, and together they begin an investigation of sound. Nature’s sounds awaken the Taitung landscape, juxtaposing Taiwan’s majestic east-coast vistas with the characters’ barren urban lives, offering the possibility of growth and renewal. The Most Distant Course won the Venice International Film Festival’s Film Critics’ Week Best Picture Award and opened the 2007 Taipei Film Festival.
The film visualizes sound. Xiao Yun travels to Taitung with the tapes, asking locals for help in pinpointing the sources of the sounds. Taitung locales – the area’s seaside windbreaks, the Cheng Gong fish market, and the Dulan sugar factory – are presented aurally as well as visually, sounds overlapping with the land. Rather than calling Xiao Yun’s “pursuit” a “return” to the original scene, it might be more aptly characterized as a sonic “construction” – the landscape experienced with the ear is necessarily different from that which is seen by the eye. When hearing is combined with vision a completely new Taitung appears before Xiao Yun: Here the area isn’t simply a counterpoint to Taipei’s urban sprawl – the countryside versus the city – but the embodiment of a distant place, Taitung rediscovered and reinvented in sound.
In the course of the film, psychiatrist A-Cai discovers that in listening and interpreting he has never been able to communicate in-depth with others; sound technician Xiao Tang wants to present his recordings to his girlfriend, but she has already left him – neither of the men have a dialogue partner. Characters’ anxieties over interpersonal relationships are made palpable through “sound.” Xiao Yun’s self-directed mutterings – “I’d like to talk to you”; “Do you know where I am?” – clearly illustrate the crux of the matter. Dialogue – not monologue – is the focus of human relations. Thus, early in the film Xiao Tang records a betel-nut salesgirl singing a popular song, “Hotline: Yours and Mine”: “You and I are connected by an emotional hotline.” In the end, Xiao Yun and Xiao Tang stand at the seashore, the visual composition placing them at opposite ends of the frame, each unaware of the other’s identity, while “Hotline: Yours and Mine” plays in the background. This ending echoes the film’s title – Xiao Yun and Xiao Tang are solitary individuals, unable to speak words of love; all they can do is listen to sounds or talk to themselves. Even when facing each other or standing side by side, they are still unable to communicate – that is “loneliness.”
Before the credits roll a dedication appears: “For Chen Mingcai.” A native of Taitung County’s Dulan area, actor and screenwriter Chen Mingcai was originally cast in the role of the psychiatrist A-Cai, but committed suicide before filming began. Director Lin Jingjie wrote: “Some believe he drowned himself in the ocean as a protest against the exploitation of the [indigenous] Ami people’s traditional territory; others feel long-term depression drove him to desperation; still others think that career and romantic difficulties were the cause…” Regardless of the reason, near the film’s end A-Cai finds a diving suit and a small bag on the Dulan seashore. He dons the suit and begins the futile effort of swimming on dry land, perhaps an allusion to life’s hopelessness. This is a subtext of the film – a heartfelt salute to Chen Mingcai’s Dulan-bred humanism.
|Related Literary Themes：||Landscape in Literature|