Taiwanese cinema has always had a unique ability to capture the most touching snapshots of the everyday lives of normal people. Auteurs such as Tsai Ming-liang and Stan Lai have shown an inimitable talent for portraying the isolation and despair of modern life in the most touching of ways, and even the early works of the now block-buster hungry Ang Lee showed the depth and beauty of humanity.
In his latest film, Exit, cinematographer-turned-director Hsiang Chienn (20 30 40, Blue Gate Crossing) tells the moving tale of a forty-something woman downtrodden by the mundanity of everyday life.
Tsai Ming-liang alumni Shiang-chyi Chen (Stray Dogs, Face) plays Ling, a single mother and factory worker struggling to cope with early-onset menopause. As she tries to juggle her maternal duties, her job, and caring for her ailing mother, Ling finds herself becoming more and more isolated from the world around her. After losing her job at the factory, Ling wanders through life with a meandering nothingness. With her ex-husband nothing more than a voicemail somewhere in Shanghai, her brattish daughter more interested in boys than her mother`s wellbeing, and her friends at the factory alienating her, Ling eventually finds a bizarre solace in an accidentally blinded man sharing her mother`s hospital ward.
Chen`s performance is perpetually watchable, her inner plight punctuated with utterly beautiful moments of intense serenity before the cataclysmic breakdown finally catches up with her in the film`s final act. Understated and precise, Chen drives the narrative confidently, despite having less than a handful of lines throughout the ninety minute run.
Hsiang Chienn`s history in cinematography truly shines through throughout the film, illustrated by some truly exquisite shots of the Taiwanese cityscape, along with some wonderfully chosen sets, from the bleakness of Ling`s dilapidated and claustrophobic apartment, to the clinical setting of the sparkling white hospital. The film`s soundtrack is expertly chosen, with stark contrast between the utter silence of Ling`s solitude and the Carmen-esque hubbub that assaults our ears when her mind dictates. In Exit, Chienn has proved himself an entrancing and highly promising director.
Slow, but at the same time entrancing, Exit is a beautiful snapshot into a very singular life, brought to tragic and relatable life by a master of the art. Certainly one to look out for in the future.
Dir: Hsiang Chienn
Scr: Hsiang Chienn
Starring: Shiang-chyi Chen, Ming-hsiang Tung, Ming Hwa Bai
Prd: Pao-Ying Chen
DOP: Howard Hsu
Music: Summer Lei
Run time: 94 mins
Exit is available on VOD and DVD now.