When Light Touches Softly

in 17th Busan International Film Festival

by Madhu Eravankara

There is a saying “when you have eyes you won’t mind their price”. The whole world of light, colors and letters is at your fingertips. But when the gift of sight is taken away, you will really experience how terrible it is! Here is a man who is blind from birth, fighting to be part of this harsh, unkind world of people gifted with sight.  Chang Jung-Chi, the upcoming director from Taiwan, embarks on the extraordinary task of revealing the dreams and aspirations of a blind man in his new film Touch of the Light (Ni Guang Fei Siang).

The film is based on the true story of Huang Yu-Siang, a blind pianist. The surprising fact is that Huang plays himself in this fiction film with the utmost authenticity and perfection. The film begins with his leaving home to study at Taipei University and dwells on his life on campus. His mother is everything to him. She is so worried that Huang is leaving his house and hometown for the first time. She herself takes him to the university. The love and care she has for her beloved blind son is portrayed in subtle cinematic moments which are highly touching. 

Huang is admitted to the hostel. His mother arranges his belongings in the room and reminds him of the places they are kept. She is eagerly waiting for his roommate to arrive. When the fat, jovial boy finally turns up, she earnestly requests that he be friendly and caring to Huang. The boy holds fast to his promise throughout their university days.

Someone helps Huang to get to his classroom on the first day. His debut piano recital in the class room turns him into an idol of the campus instantaneously.  Huang starts enjoying the classes. He always tries to be independent. He manages to carry out his responsibilities without seeking the help of others as far as possible. As a piano player he excelled all others, as music was in his blood. Three of his friends form a band, with Huang as the leader. They perform informally on some occasions. 

Huang is loved by his teachers. One of them insists that he participate in a competition but he refuses, with due respect. He recalls a bitter experience from the past. When he was a student in school, he participated in competitions and always won. On one occasion he overheard a fellow competitor commenting ‘he is always the winner because he is blind and the sympathy of the judges is with him’. Huang felt so bad that thereafter he kept away from competitions.

Chieh is a pretty girl working in a cold drink shop. Apart from the proprietor she is the only one working in the shop. Her duties include delivering cold drinks on demand to the doorsteps of the customers. She is regularly on campus and on many occasions casually encounters Huang in the company of his friends.

She has an unfulfilled dream in her heart. Her ambition was to become a dancer and she wanted to pursue academic programs in dance but her impoverished family conditions didn’t allow her to do so. Dreaming high and working low was her destiny.

Huang starts taking piano lessons at a local school in the city. This gets him into trouble as he has to cross unfamiliar busy roads with heavy traffic. He manages to reach the school with the kind help of pedestrians. One day, Chieh happens to save him from a collapse on the road.  It is a chance for her to see and know him close up.  They develop a liking for each other. She is inspired by the constant determination, optimism and passion he maintains in his life of shortcomings. She too discovers herself and puts untiring efforts into fulfilling her forgotten dreams.

Huang is also highly inspired by Chieh’s passion for dance.Touch of the Light is simple in its treatment and style. But it espouses the universal theme of ‘the triumph of the will’ on a sublime level. The director Chang Jung-Chi provides us with bizarre cinematic moments that rejuvenate one from the malevolence of contemporary life. When he plays piano in the class room for the first time, his over- protective mother is watching the scene through the window outside with tearful eyes. She realizes that her son is capable of acclimatizing to the new setting.

The sequence of Huang and Chieh making a trip to his home is exhilarating. They fly like a romantic duo across the beach, the farm land and the flower gardens. He discovers the magical sound of the waves, the alluring charm of the flowers and the fastidious appeal of the wind in her angelic presence. The trip is a revelation to both of them enabling to know themselves profoundly. His younger sister innocently asks Cheih ‘Are you my brother’s girlfriend?’When they are alone in the stillness of the night, she repeats the question. See how the family is excited to have a new happy life for Huang!

The dance movements rendered by Cheih in the film are exquisite. They spring from her heart just like poetry. She dances to the tunes of the piano as if they emanated from her inner self. It is an added attraction that Taiwan’s top contemporary female dancer Hsu Fang-yi appears as her instructor in the film. Hsu, together with Chieh, radiate sublimity and artistic perfection.   Furthermore, the stylish dance movements offer a visual counterpart to Huang’s mastery over piano. 

For Huang sound is always magical in that it brings color and excitement to his inner eye. As he was born blind, his hearing is unbelievable. When Chieh appears to him in the traffic on the road, he recognizes her as the cold drink vendor by her voice. He communicates with his band also through the sounds of music. 

In the last sequence Huang’s band is performing on the stage. His heavenly music emanating from the magical piano fills the air and the minds of the audience. This is intercut with the sublime dance movements of Cheih, who is also taking part in a big competition. Cheih is dancing to the tunes of Huang’s music that fill her heart. When she is dancing the images she visualizes are from the intimate moments she has shared with Huang. The sequences are magically blended so as to add to the beauty of the film. 

The lighting pattern employed by the French cinematographer Dylan Doyle is unique. The shots seem to be a little over-exposed.  But one can see that it is a deliberate attempt of the filmmaker to correlate with the title of the film. The light is touching you. It is the inner light glorified by the great artist Huang.  It transcends him to reach all the people around. 

Touch of the Light is a fabulous portrayal of inspiration, discovery and love. It is a human document on surpassing the limits imposed by adversity. Huang never demands our pity. On the contrary, he ignites our soul with thoughts of compassion and love. Leading a life of self-reliance, he glorifies life and its manifestations. Yes, indeed, it is a film that endorses human values, which much contemporary cinema lacks.

Edited by Jake Wilson