Taiwanese movie “Touch of the Light” is a simple and honest story about two good people getting closer to each other. Considering its subject and the real-life story behind it, it could have been one of those sentimental “the disability of the week” movie, but it instead treats its hero’s disability with honesty and respect. To him, his disability is a mere fact he has to cope with every day, and the movie calmly moves along with him as observing how his life goes through small changes.
Huang Yu-Siang, who plays his fictional version in the movie, has been blind since he was born, but his gentle face is always brimming with infectious good will and optimism. He is a talented pianist and is willing to take a big forward step for pursuing his interest, so he leaves his rural hometown for studying music in some urban university. His ever-caring mother is naturally concerned about him even though she knows well that her son can take care of himself well once he gets accustomed to his new environment. She talks with the music professor, and she looks around the dormitory where her son will live, and she frequently visits his son for washing his clothes or having a lunch together.
The adjustment process is indeed difficult for Yu-Siang during his first days, but he is helped and supported by the others surrounding him besides his mother. The music professor and her substitute lecturer are generous to him, and his roommate Ching(Hsieh Kan-chun) is a jovial friend who gladly brings Yu-Siang to his band circle. They and other band members get along well with each other, and Yu-Siang is happy to play music or spend free time with them.
On one day, Yu-Siang happens to hear some woman’s voice while trying to recruit new members with Ching at the campus. He likes her voice, and he is interested in meeting her again even though he does not know who she is or how she looks like. Some days later, when he has a trouble with walking across the street, he comes across her, and that is how they are acquainted with each other for the first time.
Her name is Xiao Jie(Sandrine Pinna, who is also known as Chang Yung-yung), and we already know a lot about her because the movie goes back and forth between Yu-Siang’s daily life and Jie’s before they are formally introduced to each other. Jie studied ballet for a while, but she stopped her study due to the financial circumstance in her family(her mom is a serious shopping addict), so now she is working as an employee at a coffee/beverage shop.
Her life is not that desperate except the money problem, and her employer is more like her friend, but there has always been frustration inside her because of her aborted dream. When she sees the advertisement about a free ballet class at the community center, she seizes upon the chance, and, not so surprisingly, the class gradually re-ignites her dream. When she hears about an important audition later, she considers going to the audition, but, despite her ardent wish, she is still not so sure about her talent.
As Yu-Siang and Jie become closer to each other, they get to know more about each other while somehow affecting each other’s career, but the director Chang Rong-ji wisely does not force them into romantic mode. Although there is apparently the mutual feeling between them during their intimate moments such as when Jie teaches him some dance moves at the empty auditorium at one night, they simply enjoy each other’s company just because they like each other, and whether their relationship will develop into something more than friendship remains an open possibility even at the ending.
Their relationship looks and feels convincing thanks to the good chemistry between two likable lead performers. Huang Yu-Siang brings that natural quality of non-professional actor to his sincere performance, and you cannot help but like him right from the beginning. I have no idea about how much the movie is close to reality(according to him, about 50% of the movie reflects his real life story), but I could see that Huang Yu-Siang is a really good man I’d like to know more about, and I liked the understated approach to his difficulty with blindness in the movie. Yu-Siang is not particularly burdened by his disability because it has been a part of his life from the beginning, but he wants his talent to be judged without the bias on his disability, and it especially hurted him when someone cruelly said at a contest that he won the prize just because of his blindness, although that was not true at all.
On the opposite, Sandrine Pinna gives a charming performance which interacts well with her co-actor’s earnest acting on the screen. While Jie and Yu-Siang visit his home, there is a lovely private moment between Jie and Yu-Siang’ cute little sister when they sleep together in the same room. Yu-Siang’s sister innocently asks Jie whether she is her brother’s girlfriend or not, and Jie gives her a warm reply with smile, and that is enough for her – and us.
Avoiding sappy sentimentalism and cheap clichés, “Touch of the Light”, which was the official submission of Taiwan to the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year, becomes a touching drama which subtly resonates through its plain attitude to its story and characters. There is the ‘climax’ part around the ending, but the movie handles it with admirable restraint, and the ending is somber but heartwarming none the less. Whatever will happen next, these two nice people feel a little better thanks to each other – and their lives will go on, separately or not.