Mou Tun-fei’s rediscovered 1970 film, previously banned for its “sensitive political nature & homosexual undertones”, screened as part of an evening of avant-garde Taiwanese cinema at this year’s Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival (04 to 13 JUN). Here’s our RADIANT CIRCUS writeup.
By RADIANT CIRCUS
THE END OF THE TRACK
d. Mou Tun-fei (Taiwan, 1970, Mandarin + English subtitles, 91mins, restored from 35mm).
“What else would a kid do besides play?”
THE END OF THE TRACK is a beautiful yet devastating film where the occasional cruelty of life, childhood and friendship threatens to fragment social bonds. Two boys from contrasting backgrounds – Hsiao-tung and Yung-shen – battle nothing other than their easy friendship and long, lazy days, running, swimming and fighting in the mud. Constantly in each other’s company, they have been teased as queers but don’t really know what that means. They merely threaten to bite the face of the bully who called them it so they can all be “queer” together (as long as they don’t catch his pimples!). Ignorant of the class differences that might divide them, their life just happens. Until it doesn’t.
The first stunning section of the film demonstrates the casual ease that the boys have in each other’s company, escaping the constraints of town to repeatedly strip down to their skins, swim, race and roam until sweat sheens in a hot rural summer. A skinny dipping scene has some outrageous body-conscious dialogue but the homophobic panic that banned this on release inevitably over exaggerates the homosocial love and loyalty that’s deep-wired into their friendship.
After tragedy strikes – a scene that we ultimately see re-edited in three dramatically different compositions – Tung drifts from his middle class parents to spend time with the more accommodating love of Yung-shen’s bereaved family. The tension crowbars Tung’s world apart. Blaming himself for his friend’s death, Tung helps Yung-shen’s parents with their dream of trading their noodle stall for bricks and mortar, solemnly declaring on one of several visits to his friend’s grave: “I have done my part”. A typhoon that contrives to destroy everything that remains also tests the soaked parents to respond: will Tung’s family finally play their part too? In the aftermath, Tung stays behind, returning home the following morning to find his seemingly uncaring folks have stayed up, a portable radio still warning of catastrophe in his mother’s sleeping hands.
One of the other striking aspects of this avant-garde film is its use of sound. In a stirring sequence, the thud of running feet on track contrasts with a flurry of beads on an abacus, as brain battles brawn on an abandoned sports field. Earlier we’ve witnessed the boys’ silent sharing of food as ocean waves roar and shoes hang tied to the rocks above them, a scene that delicately scripts the laws of what is yet to come. In another pivotal scene, the noise of a school abacus competition overwhelms the traumatised Tung, the cacophony exposing life’s futility when its real challenge – of remaining steadfast, loyal and true – has already been lost.
When grief finally wreaks havoc on Tung’s school grades, a rebuke from his father pushes him to breaking point. In anger – his speech raging and our English subtitles running too quickly to comprehend – he declares his friend deserved his fate. Because life is just better if we don’t care, if we don’t cross boundaries and if we don’t expose ourselves to love. Ultimately, THE END OF THE TRACK is a passionate scream against that most cruel conceit of modern life: that we are all just in it for ourselves. It’s easy to see why an oppressive regime didn’t like it. Mou Tun-fei contrasts class solidarity with the empty civility of fractured social bonds, warning that our common humanity can all too easily be tossed into darkness.
- The Taiwanese strand of Aperture continues with classic A TOUCH OF ZEN (09 JUN 14:00, The Lexi Cinema). Close-Up Film Centre’s companion season TAIPEI STORIES continues until 30 JUN (discount for all RADIANT CIRCUS subscribers).
APERTURE: ASIA & PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL
Aperture: Asia & Pacific Film Festival Part One screens at multiple venues in London (04 to 13 JUN). A second part returns later in the year (11 to 14 SEP). The festival is run by Day For Night who work across subtitling, film distribution, festivals & other screening projects.
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