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"Dust in the Wind" in One Shot

Hou Hsiao-hsien's 1986 portrait of love, loneliness, and labor encapsulated in a single shot.
Kelley Dong
One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie. Hou Hsiao-hsien's Dust in the Wind (1986) is showing September 18 — October 18 in the series Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and New Taiwanese Cinema.
A clock at the train station signals Wan (Wang Chien-wen) and Huen's (Xin Shufen) fated arrival in Taipei. The two wide-eyed sweethearts, who innocently confuse familiarity for true romance, have together moved towards the light at the end of the tunnel stretching far beyond their small mining town. But after a series of hurried introductions, their first day ends in fury when Huen opens a gift from Wan's father: an expensive watch paid for in installments. If viewed with trust, it stands as a symbol of life as a sparkling cycle of opportunity, rotating endlessly against your skin. And it is also "100 percent waterproof," his friends exclaim. But through the tunnel vision of Wan's suspicion, every act of love is misread as a condescending taunt. The watch becomes for him a warped symbol of time as a cutthroat obstacle course that can never be beat. Humiliated by even the slightest suggestion of pity, he storms off at the sight of it. Alone, he places the watch in a glass of water to put that unconditional love to the test. The hands keep going even after the power cuts out, but he lacks the faith to see through the night. Like the farmer and his wife from F.W. Murnau's Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) who stumble into the big city, Wan and Huen's initial moments in Taipei are decorated with the pleasant surprise of urban novelties (a movie theater, towering racks of shoes). The young man's insecurity, however, only pushes those fleeting pleasures further away. He drowns Huen's affectionate gestures in his doubts, rejects her with stiff stares. He sinks into a hole of his own making. Years swiftly skip by, first two, then a couple more, then three that feel more like five. Hair lengthens past shoulders. Her suitors, who are much kinder than Wan, persist, until she finally lets go of the lover who carried her suitcase, who helped her find her first job. A worker with only willingness but no foundational will, Wan's exhaustive toiling for upward class mobility leaves him perhaps wealthier than when he first stepped foot into Taipei. And yet he is even lonelier than before.

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