Saturday, July 26, 2014

AAIFF ’14: A Time in Quchi

There is a different rhythm to life in the Quchi countryside. Chang Tso-chi acclimates viewers to it far quicker than his ten year old protagonist. Kuan Hsiao-pao is used to Taipei’s high speed internet, but a summer spent with his traditional grandfather will have lasting significance in Chang’s A Time in Quchi (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Asian American International Film Festival in New York.

At this point, Kuan is used to his parents’ chaos, so their likely divorce is not exactly shocking. He will spend his summer vacation with his paternal grandfather, so his folks will have more time to quarrel, but he is rather put off by the old man’s highly structured lifestyle. He is also less than thrilled when his chop-busting younger sister “Seaweed” arrives sometime later.

Since this is Taiwan, kids still go to school even during summer vacation, so Kuan is duly enrolled at the village primary school. Not surprisingly, he is initially rather standoffish, but Kuan soon forms his first real friendship with Huang Ming-chuan, an aboriginal classmate. Unfortunately, just as Kuan embraces Quchi, tragedy strikes.

Quchi is a subtle and wistful coming of age story that showcases some extraordinarily natural young actors. However, it must be completely compartmentalized from Chang, who is essentially the Taiwanese Polanski, except he is not being sheltered from justice by the French government. Frankly, it is a little creepy to realize the incident he was convicted for occurred at a party for Quchi, but that is not the fault of Yang Liang-yu and his co-stars.

While Yang’s work might be too understated for those who like to bring their Fault in Our Stars branded hanky to the movies, he keeps what could have been a saccharine melodrama feel mature and grounded. He also rather graciously allows Lin Ya-jo to steal all of Seaweed’s scenes. Nonetheless, it is veteran actor-screenwriter Kuan Yun-lung (a.k.a. Kuan Kuan) who really gives the film its heart and integrity as the gruff but wise grandfather.

Even at the height of young Kuan’s city slicker culture shock, he can appreciate the natural beauty of Quchi’s rivers and foothills. Cinematographer Yuan Ching-kuo certainly did as well. Visually, it is a much more arresting, big canvas film than you would expect from the coming-of-age genre. It represents nice work from a large cast and creative crew that should not be tarnished by Chang’s subsequent scandal. Recommended for those who appreciate quiet but telling family dramas, A Time in Quchi screens this coming Monday (7/28) at the Village East, as part of the 2014 AAIFF.