Wild Sparrow (野雀之詩) is simple and extremely slow paced, told through the eyes of Han (Kao Yu-hsia, 高於夏), an introspective, shy grade schooler who lives with his great-grandmother in the verdant countryside.
Han has a fascination with sparrows, which are either flying high in the sky or trapped in cages and nets, providing a constant metaphor throughout the film. In the most ironic scene, a man catches the birds just to charge people to set them free again, taking advantage of Buddhists who engage in the ritual of “releasing” animals from captivity. Han takes a badly injured sparrow home and buries it when it dies, and his idyllic and innocent life ends there.
Like most rural areas in Taiwan, the bulk of the population has left for work in the cities, leaving old people and children behind. While the scenery is stunning, the lack of human presence is haunting as those who remain do what they can to scrape by.
Photo courtesy of Hooray Films
Han is suddenly whisked to the urban jungle of Jhongli (中壢) when his elementary school shuts down — another common phenomenon in rural areas — staying with his young mother Li (Lee Yi-chieh, 李亦捷) who leads a dysfunctional life, bouncing between bad and often abusive relationships, hostess clubs and prostitution to survive.
The film was nominated for several awards in last year’s Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節), with Lee winning Best Actress, but it did not make its box office premiere until last week.
Lee does a superb job depicting the life of Li, a lost woman who often returns home drunk or with a man while acting erratically toward Han. She is loving and overbearing and resentful toward Han at the same time, delivering a complex and heartfelt performance that is surely worthy of her award.
Photo courtesy of Hooray Films
It’s a poignant exploration of people from less fortunate backgrounds, especially women, who fall through the cracks. Li is also a sparrow, longing to be free but unable to break out of the cycle of being controlled by men in all aspects of her life. These men use her for their own desires and purposes, and Han has nobody to look up to despite being a model student praised by his teachers. Li does attempt to act as a protector to Han, but she is hardly able to protect herself and put her life together, let alone care for him.
Shih’s atmospheric, dreamlike sequences are loaded with raw emotion that cut to the bone and makes up for the lack of overall narrative. The 4:3 format focuses the audience’s perspective into a more claustrophobic, confined space, enhancing the feelings of helplessness and despair. When not looking through Han’s eyes, the viewer is placed right on the periphery of each scene, behind a tree, door, curtain or window, close enough to feel Han’s and Li’s pain, but all one can do is endure it with them while the events unfold.
The lighting, color and composition of each scene, from the lush, lonely hills to the colorful shining lights of the hostess clubs to the muted cold tones of Li’s apartment, are all carefully calculated, and they blend into each other in brief moments. Every scene is like a painting, and perhaps only by detaching from reality and employing surreal, almost fantastical aesthetics can one bear the hopelessness of the characters’ situations.
The resulting product, as the movie’s Chinese-language title suggests, is a tragically beautiful poem that fully captivates the viewer and immerses them in the suffocating world that Han and Li live in. Shih has done a masterful job in his full-length debut, and Wild Sparrow is a prime example of a slow-moving arthouse movie that doesn’t bore.
Last week saw a momentary spark in the election season, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and Taiwan People’s Party Chairman and presidential candidate Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) attempted to form a joint ticket, ostensibly to defeat the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its candidate Vice President William Lai (賴清德). This mating of massive egos was arranged by longtime KMT stalwart and former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). The deal predictably fell apart, though as of this writing — Thursday — there was still a chance for an 11th hour recovery. (Editor’s note: it didn’t happen.) Many people
On a dark November afternoon at Southampton’s City Farm, the animals are going about their business. They are all rescues. Penny the pig, a clutch of former battery farm chickens, three pygmy goats and Salvatore the cane snake, so orange and shiny he looks as though he is glowing from within as he twines around my arm in loving, even sensual embrace. All little miracles in their own right. But none so strange as the dull-looking brown shells in the glass tank in the corner. “Who’s that in there?” I ask Hannah, in whose charge they lie. “They’re African land snails”,
In the heart of Taipei at Legacy — a venue renowned for hosting diverse musical acts — Alvvays, a Grammy-nominated ensemble from Canada, delivered a compelling performance last week. With a fusion of indie-dream pop and shoegaze influences, Alvvays enthralled the audience with their catchy, introspective melodies and refined stage presence. Legacy, brimming with subdued anticipation, served as the ideal setting for Alvvays’ show. Almost reaching its full capacity, the venue buzzed with excitement as the band took the stage. Off Time Production, the local organizers, infused a unique touch by having a hipster pizzeria, Under The Bridge, cater the event.
Leading British universities have been influenced by Chinese agents, with diplomatic and unofficial pressure resulting in censorship on campus, according to a Channel 4 documentary. The Dispatches documentary, Secrets and Power: China in the UK, alleges that the University of Nottingham closed its School of Contemporary Chinese Studies in 2016 in response to pressure from Beijing. The former head of the institute, Steve Tsang, has openly criticized the Chinese Communist party (CCP) on several occasions, but said that university management asked him not to speak to the media during Xi Jinping’s (習近平) visit to the UK in 2015. The saga at the