A Glow of Art That Transcends
the Floating World
Huang Yu-Shan's Film “The Strait
Story” or “Chronicle of the
Southern Light of The Floating
World [Ukiyo]” (Nánfang jìshì zhi Fúshì
/ Freedom Times] Editor’s note: Many a soul of rare beauty has been
lost in time or has been forgotten. Directed by Huang Yushan, the film
tells the story of the Taiwanese artist Huang Qing-chéng [Huang
Ching-cheng] and of Li Guixiang, expounded in the article of the scholar
Lai Shen-chon, but it also depicts the life of artists at the time and
their situation in a foreign land.
The film’s language that is artfully
employed displays great similarities with the stream of consciousness technique
of contemporary literature and with reliance on such artistic devices as
‘point of view’. A deep relationship links existence, time and the world,
as Martin Heidegger explained in his Sein und Zeit [Being and Time].
The freedom pertaining to time,
this singular ability of those who truly master the artistic devices of
cinema as an art, can effect on the screen the interruption of the time
that an event takes, it can shorten and extended it, it can give us different
moments of time in alternation, interspersed with each other, it can rewind
time or reverse it. Film is more flexible in this regard and it can therefore
feature the use of stream of consciousness, as in contemporary literature,
and it knows the skills related to ‘point of view’. All of this is due
to the magic of artistic power, and it lends meaning to human existence.
Moreover, the film is based
on found objects, it finds images for the perception of these objects,
witnessed road deposits that directly touch; and literature that expresses
everything through words is, after all, one step removed. This movie is
for you to directly see, and literature means only to feel that you are
thinking, so the poetic power of the film is more direct, it reveals the
more magical power of art.
Cultural Reflections: from realism
Huang Yushan directs the “The
Strait Story – or Chronicle of Southern Light of The Floating World”
on the one hand with the force of realism, for Taiwan's cultural history
is fully reflected. On the other hand, this is also melted in a poetic
atmosphere. And thus, in the bitter history of Taiwan, a very poetic in
mood is present. But this is not cheap poetic, sentimental self-pity. Instead,
through the suffering, its muddy lands, we arrive at the sublime
The whole film shows Li Guixiang
and Huang Qing-chéng [Huang Ching-cheng] in Japan and Taiwan, engaging
in the pursuit of their artistic ideals. And it presents a love story of
great beauty, employing the first-person perspective for the presentation
of their experiences, with strong feelings of self-expression, and
yet implicitly poetic in its atmosphere and mood.
On the other hand, we learn more
from Xiu Xiu’s experience with restauring paintings and from her
experience in field research, for it is her careful painting work
that lets Huang Qing-chéng's face of [a] beauty resurface: an experience
that is rendered possible thanks to the third-person view, which lets people
be moved by the art of Huang Qing-chéng, and this in the real
world of authenticity.
In this way, the director relies
on cross-use of a third-person and first-person point of view, so that
the art world, Huang Qing-chéng’s and our’s, becomes ambiguous,
and what we experience is full of mysteries of life and art.
At the same time, the implications
of the “Chronicle of the Southern Light of The Floating World” are rich
and deep. At the end, the Takachiho Maru is torpedoed by a U.S. submarine.
Huang Qing-chéng and Li Guixang who are both aboard the Japanese
ship jump into the sea. When I see this I cannot help feeling aghast,
struck by horror. Is this the so-called “light of the floating world”
– and the relentless waves, are they? Did the competitive conflict between
the United States and Japan in Taiwan's waters swallow the illusion of
light and shade it?
Today, our society is awash with
American and Japanese pop culture. Where is Taiwan's own cultural identity;
the cultural foundation in Taiwan - where is it?
The Film “The Strait Story
/ Or: Chronicle of the Southern Light of the Floating World,” gives
its answer: Xiu Xiu will dedicate herself with perseverance to her chosen
task – to find traces of this Huang Qing-chéng and thus, of a part
of Taiwan’s art history that has been lost. As the film ends, we follow
Xiu Xiu and return with her to the fireflies. Back to the resumption of
the pure Southern Taiwan plains, to Heianzhiguang, farmers’ land: Heianzhiguang,
let her go there: there one can enjoy Huang Qing-chéng,
the mysterious painting, “Black Woman”, the original, the source, in such
a plain, Heianzhiguang in Southern Taiwan. Xiu Xiu seems to see them
in the near future, she will be committed to Taiwan's land, where Huang
lies buried, a land of dreams forever.
The so-called “world of floating
shadows” is therefore not the illusion of light waves biting the people.
Instead it exists in the dust of the land and as the positive force of
light. Through such a comprehension, fate has received another name: Dedication
has a metaphysical brilliance which transcends the floating world!
Poetic realism of photography,
linked with that which is ‘within’ us
In G. Betton's Film Aesthetics
we read: “You can say that all films are realistic, or in Delacroix's
words: : "All works of art are the expression of an ideal, but for a realistic
artist, this ideal is almost the same as the moment of contact with the
birth of the real."” In the “Chronicle of the Southern Light
of the Floating World”, Huang Yushan makes use of a
considerable number of devices: stream of consciousness, dreams,
newspaper clippings, and the figure of Xiu Xiu. Shooting with the
camera, I think the director creates real emotion, an expression of the
relationship between man and land, a “poetic realism” and
If we talk about the aesthetic nature
of the film, we talk about “the relationship between film and literature.”
Walter Benjamin, in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
[Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit] talked
about film aesthetics. I, the aesthetic model (work production,
aesthetic perception, the work flow) of the Revolution, II, montage,
collage, juxtaposition, etc. Emphasis on the relationship with the film,
Benjamin’s criticism and awareness of reality and film realism.
Huang Yushan is a film director
who is rooted in Taiwan’s society and history from the start, and she has
been shooting a lot of documentaries, including those on such Taiwanese
artists as Zhu Míng [Ju Ming], Cài Ruìyuè
[Tsai Jui-Yueh], Huang Qing-chéng and others. But she is also Taiwan's
major feminist director. Her attention as a filmmaker is focused particularly
on Taiwanese art history and on the cognitive as well as creative consciousness
“The Chronicle of the Southern
Light of the Floating World” is one example. It uses montage,
collage, and juxtaposition, to subvert our usual understanding, and it
awakens our memory of a lost history. The homeland of this film is found
in the magnolia field of women; women are present in the mysterious paintings
and in the life of the male protagonist, but they are vivid, powerful
women, and Li Guixiang, Xiu Xiu are fully conscious women, they stick to
The protagonist of “The
Chronicle of Southern Light of the Floating World,” Huang Qing-chéng,
as well as Chen Dewang [Chen De-wang] , Hóng Ruìlín
[Hong Rui-lin], Zhang Wan-chuan [Chang Wan-chuan] and other Taiwanese artist
had founded the Action Art Group (MOUVE Art Association) in 1938.
The MOUVE artists engaged in advanced studies in Tokyo. Then, the young
artists came back to Taiwan. They formed artists’ groups and they
were passionate and young, and engaged in artistic research. With their
clear and innovative spirit, their pre-war paintings tended to be anti-establishment.
We wonder whether Taiwan's art history and the theme of the artist will
also take an important position in the future film projects of the filmmaker
Presumably her work will focus on
Taiwan’s culture and the film audience would like to know the answer to
the problem. Hong Ruilin’s famous painting of miners, for example,
is full of uniquely local sentiments and humane concerns. Like Huang Ching-cheng,
he belonged to the MOUVE Art Association. And with the ups
and downs of his unconventional life, this subject matter in itself is
very attractive. There is also Chen De-Wang with his unique style and
artistic achievements, and the paintings he left us reveal the aesthetics
of a generation which formed an artistic elite.
First published in: Zìyóu shíbào (Freedom
Times) supplement, Nov. 9, 2005
Translated by Andreas Weiland.
The author of this film review, Prof. LAI Shen-chon, is Chairman
of the Dept. of Chinese Literature at the National Taipei University. He
specializes on Heidegger, Buddhism and the philosophy of art. He obtained
his Ph.D. from Munich University, Germany.
Lai Shen-chon, Bibliography
(A short selection)
* Translator’s note: The
alternative title of The Strait Story has also been rendered
as “Chronicle of the Southern Light of Ukiyo”. The Japanese
word ukiyo, in Chinese
fú shì, means floating world.
The term can remind us of Edo, later on renamed Tokyo, and its art
known as ukiyo-e or “pictures
of the floating world.”
This art originated in the late 17th century, as a result of the formation
of a proto-bourgeoisie or incipient middle class. Flourishing especially
in the 18th and 19th century, before it declined in the 20th century, this
art is best represented by the marvellous woodcuts of such artists as Hokusai.
It featured landscapes or related to historical tales, folk tales and mythical
figures. But it was also fascinated by the world of the theater and the
Originally, the term “fú shì” respectively “ukiyo” reflects
a philosophical concept of Buddhism which implies the fleeting character
and “mere appearance” of our existence and of the world we inhabit.
Thanks to a later semantic shift, this skeptical (or ‘negative’) meaning
of “ukiyo” or “floating world” is pushed into the background and superseded,
in a new social context, by an affirmative meaning: a gradual process that
culminated in the early 20th century when a decadent and nihilistic attitude
became prevalent among sections of the educated middle class, both in the
West and in Japan.
It is now that “ukiyo” refers to the life and world of the boheme,
the urban cosmos inhabited by beautiful women, by dancers, theater actors,
playwrights, poets, and painters in a big city like Tokyo…
Check internet resources such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukiyo