Darkness and Light (1999)

This is a superb early work from Chang Tso-chi, focusing on a family whose members are mostly visually-impaired, and shot in a poetic, dreamy style that accumulates emotional power by the end.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,069

Dir. Chang Tso-chi
1999 | Taiwan | Drama | 104 mins | 1.85:1 | Min Nan & Mandarin
PG (passed clean) for some violence and coarse language

Cast: Lee Kang-i, Tsai Ming-shiou, Shie Bau-huei
Plot: Kang-Yi is a teenage girl who lives in an apartment building in the port city of Keelung. Most of her family, and the people in the apartment, are blind, and she helps them out. Ah Ping, who was brought up on the mainland and only speaks Mandarin, comes back to Taiwan after dropping out of military.
Awards: Won 2 Golden Horse Awards – Best Original Screenplay & Best Film Editing; Nom. for 4 Golden Horse Awards – Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actress & Best Sound Effects; Official Selection (Cannes)
Source: T-Mark Inc

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family, Coming-of-Age, Visually-Impaired
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector Plus – True Colors Film Festival
Spoilers: No

This is my favourite Chang Tso-chi movie so far, and I think one of his very best works.  Only his third feature, Darkness and Light features the kind of filmmaking that resonates with me—poetic, dreamy, down-to-earth, emotional and about family and life itself. 

In an excellent debut performance that landed her a Golden Horse nomination for Best Leading Actress, Lee Kang-i plays a teenage girl at the cusp of adulthood who along with her intellectually-disabled younger brother helps to take care of her family, which includes her blind father, and other visually-impaired people living in the same apartment. 

When a young man who can only speak Mandarin (instead of Taiwanese dialect) pops by, she becomes infatuated with him, to the chagrin of a local thug who claims she is his girl. 

One of the best things about Chang’s film is the editing, with scenes that flow and fade out like the undulating waves that crash upon the shores of the port city of Keelung that the characters live in. 

His sporadic use of music, an accordian-like sounding cue accompanied by electric guitar, is sublime—whenever it recurs, it brings out some deep, hidden reservoir of emotions that we wouldn’t have known exists in a film like this, culminating in a denouement so elegiac yet beautiful that I had to hold back my tears. 

A story of young and old, desire and tragedy, and violence and affection, Darkness and Light explores growing up with blissful and painful memories, rendered cinematic by a terrific filmmaker.    

Grade: A



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