To Live in the Sunshine or Die: "Touch of the Light"

in 49th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

by France Hatron

Touch of the Light, the first feature film by Jung-Chi Chang, received the prize from the FIPRESCI jury, as well as the New Director award at the Golden Horse ceremony – an event which is comparable to the Oscars and takes place at the end of the festival. The film is based on the true story of blind pianist Yu-Siang Huang. He plays the role of Shiang, who was also born blind. The other leading part, Jie, is played by Sandrine Pinna, a very pretty French-Taiwanese actress.

Up until the end of high school, Shiang lived at his parents’ house with his little sister. The story begins as he leaves home with his mother for Taipei University to learn music, particularly the piano, for which he has a passion. His little sister waves him goodbye; she’s sad to be separated from him. One can imagine how kind he was to her. He looks angelic, good-hearted and discreet. But even though he smiles continuously, his graceful smile straddles the line between resignation and deep despair. When he was young, he used to compete in musical competitions and win. But once he heard he had won because he was blind, he stopped winning. This horrible memory lingers in the back in his head and makes him lose focus each time he desires to play music. Shiang places a huge importance on women’s voices. It is Jie’s voice which draws his attention for the first time on campus. One of her jobs involves delivering food and drink to students on campus.  

The second part of his life starts when he and his mother step into his bedroom at university. His mom is worried and suffers because she knows he has to become completely autonomous now, but she knows he isn’t and never will be. We get the sense that she feels responsible for her son’s disease. But she cannot express her profound misery. She cannot hug him. Her voiceover states that when Shiang was three years old, she learned he was blind. Then he smiled at her – as if he already had the same extraordinary personality! Shiang’s only refuge is his piano, but his talent puts him in solitary confinement. 

Parallel to Shiang’s story runs Jie’s. She has a job in a fast food restaurant. She looks serious and realistic. Her father drinks and her mother spends money she doesn’t have. Jie keeps on giving her mother money to buy lots of cosmetics, but Jie herself can’t make ends meet! 

Jie has had an unfulfilled dream of becoming a ballet dancer. But as her family couldn’t make ends meet, she could not take an academic program in dance. However, her meeting with piano fanatic Shiang makes her more self-confident and opens up new horizons. From his end, Shiang finds more and more energy to take piano lessons, forming a band and having fun with the musicians, and being independent without asking for help from other students.

Most of the screenplay is solid. The only regret is that some flashbacks at the end of the film, which have already been seen earlier, are too long and weigh down the story a bit. The acting is fully convincing. Huang never overacts. Pinna is very attractive and her style, combined with her fragility and innocence, should make her a key player. She’s already been honored three times for best actress. 

The French cinematographer Dylan Dole has chosen to use a lot of lighting effects which express not only emotion, but also a blind person’s way of feeling. The light radiates around Shiang, as if all the light he has been deprived is given back tenfold to his surroundings.

Both the piano recitals and the dance scenes – in particular, the ones where Jie has dance lessons with the leading Taiwanese female dancer Hsu Fang-yi – are transcendent. The shooting process creates aesthetic pictures, full of poetry and sensuality. Music played by Shiang combines with Jie’s dancing sequences to show how their lives and behavioral psychologies are interlinked and how each draws inspiration from the other. The audience is placed inside a wonderful artistic whirlwind. We have the sense that we perceive the world with the same emotions that a blind person might.

What a performance by Huang, to portray his own life without forcing his audience to inhabit a strange world which might only inspire pity and compassion! One can only imagine that the director was inspired by Huang’s brilliant mind and by his life lesson. This is an artistically ambitious and accomplished first feature, full of delicacy. When Huang accepted the FIPRESCI prize he told the audience, “I’m very happy to win this prize but also sad because I’ll never see how I can play a role…”

Edited by Lesley Chow