Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Osmanthus Alley (1988)

English title: Osmanthus Alley.

This is essentially a Republican period biographical drama. Most Republican period drama deals with the frictions caused by the clashes of the new and the old, this story focus almost exclusively on the old, and how those aspects shaped the life of our main character Ti Hong.

Her life was one that's steeped in superstition and old traditions.

Osmanthus Alley (1988)Foot binding was discouraged as far back as the 17th century when the Manchus took power in China, but the Han Chinese refused to give up the bizarre tradition. And when the Republic was founded in 1911, such practise along with men wearing queues were outlawed. Men's queue wearings disappeared overnight and were replaced with modern short hair style, but foot bindings persisted. This situation is especially true because this (true) story took place in Taiwan.

Ti Hong grew up in this Republican period, and the bulk of the story takes place during this period. Like all women at that time, she had her feet bound since childhood for a better prospect of marrying into a wealthy family. She got her wish, and was arranged to be married into a well off family, instead of marrying her childhood sweetheart, who's a poor fisherman. And the life of a fisherman isn't only poor, but fraught with risks at sea. Marriage, in those days and age, was about practical matter. Matter of the hearts has no place in the decision making.

In the final scene, in her eighties, and still wearing the traditional tunic that was in stark contrast with the women in modern dresses of the 1970s around her, she overhears that her childhood sweetheart has returned from Japan, and has become a successful and wealthy businessman. She stands there, lost in her thoughts, imagining what other life she may have led if she had chosen him instead. The life she has led is filled with loneliness, frustration and pain. We imagine that her life would be far richer and happier if she had married her childhood sweetheart. The moral of the story is clear. BUT, did she really have free choice, growing up in an environment so steeped in tradition?

Foot binding, arranged marriage, face saving, and all the old traditions that were the things that point to her destiny. While the whole society was shaken from a very foundation from social upheaval, it was still possible that in some more remote community, people live the lives the way their ancestors do.

This Republican period drama isn't so much about the conflict between the old and the new, but the antipodean existence of an old world in a modern, changing world. This is only possible because the story takes place in Taiwan, not Mainland, where maintaining her old ways would be impossible.

This is quite unlike your usual HK commercial genre film because apart from being bankrolled by Golden Harvest, this is very much a Taiwanese movie with most of cast (both artistic and technical) are Taiwanese.

Simon Yam played the childhood sweetheart, his cameo appearance is less than 5 mins in total.

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