QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM SAN SEBASTIAN
Khim-Hok (Jieh-Wen King) is an old man of very few words. He lives with his wife Tuan (Kuei-Mei Yang) on a quiet house high on the Taiwanese mountains. They have to climb a very long staircase before entering the highly isolated dwelling. The weather is almost invariably misty, and the landscape is lush green, covered with a thick rainforest vegetation. A bucolic waterfall adds the final touch of detachment to the environment. It feels almost as if the two elderly people lived on a planet of their own, a million miles away from Taipei’s urban jungle. They seem mostly satisfied (or at least conformed) about their predicament.
Khim-Hok has a physical disability, and it is his wife who provides for the family. He barely leaves the house, leaving Tuan to earn money (the poor woman has to constantly climbing up and down the endless steps) and do the cooking. Occasionally, Khim-Hok picks her up from the bus stop. They barely talk to one another, yet their affection seems profound and honest. They bond over silly television shows. Khim-hok and Tuan have an adult son. Khim bemoans not having a grandchild, and cries out loud over an old tape of his son’s wedding, as if he was mourning the loss of a relative. Their only child has found a new partner, a young man of around his age. And his father has presumably lost any hope of an heir (probably unaware of the gay marriage and gay adoption law passed earlier this year in Taiwan, the first of its type on the Asian continent). The parents are no longer in touch with their only child, however it’s never clear who severed ties.
Tuan is a hard worker, and she conceals any possible health issues from her husband. One day, she collapses on the steps, in what may have been a mild stroke or heart attack. A few days later, Tuan does not wake up, and a desperate Khim decides to put her lifeless in the refrigerator. However gruesome and macabre, his actions are driven by love and affection, and the naive desire to keep her company. At one point But how long can he keep his dirty secret? And what are the possible repercussions should his estranged son eventually return? Could he possibly face criminal charges? Our protagonist seems unfazed by these ugly prospects, and continues to devote attention to his other half, mostly by dumping ice cubes on top of her frozen corpse.
These developments take place very subtly and slowly, leaving viewers to gradually put puzzle pieces together, and to make countless assumptions. The two directors explain: ” the film depicts the life experience of losing a loved one. We want to invite the audience to slow down and observe the changing life and the passing of time”. This is an auspicious piece of slow cinema (incidentally, the Asian king of slow cinema and iconic LBGT+ filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang also stems from Taiwan). It is also a comment on tradition and change, in what’s possibly the most socially and artistically dynamic country of Asia.
A Journey in Spring has just premiered in the Official Selection of the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival.