Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
A still from Dust in the Wind
The Time Boat
This story sounds like a one-sentence joke: a boy writes to a girl every day, and the girl falls in love with the postman.
But as the plot of a movie, it would be a tale. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Dust in the Wind 《戀戀風塵》begins with a tracking shot from a train, going in and out of tunnels. The bright green countryside of Taiwan fills the frame and is then eclipsed by another tunnel. This process repeats itself. Wan and his girlfriend Huen barely talk to each other during the trip; in fact, they remain silent for the most of the movie. Wan gives up high school to work in the city, to support his parents and also to prepare for his marriage to Huen. He writes to her every day. When Huen arrives in the city, she realises that urban life is not as brilliant as Wan has described it in the letter. Even when Wan does his military service, he keeps writing to Huen. When he gets discharged, what Wan gets back are only undelivered letters, stamped ‘recipient unknown’. He then discovers that Huen is already married to the postman.
When Wan goes back to his hometown wearing a shirt made by Huen, his grandfather complains about the typhoon destroying all the crops: ‘the potatoes are harder to look after than ginseng.’ Wan and his grandfather stand against a green, bright forest backdrop, and the story ends with the same mountain view it began with.
How does this story sound in one song? Chen Ming-chang’s film score is entitled “The Time Boat”. Why ‘time’? Why ‘boat’? The acoustic guitar piece has no lyrics, giving us no hints, but this is a story about time — ageing, waiting, people changing and nature unchanging. It seems like everyone in this film is waiting for something: waiting for a train, waiting for marriage, waiting for a letter, waiting for the sweet potatoes to grow. Time doesn’t wait for us, but we always need to wait for time.
“The Time Boat”: