Dust in the Wind is a Taiwanese film directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien in 1987. It is based on the true story of one of the writers, Wu Njen-Jen. It featured Li – Tian-lu as the main actor and has generally had good reception in the reviews.


The story begins in Jio-fen, a small mining town in Taiwan. Life is difficult as everyone tries to eke out a living and support their dependents. Two lovers, a young man named A-yuan and his girlfriend, A-Yun, find life unbearable as money is difficult to get. They decide to quit school and move to Taipei, a larger city, where they hope to find better-paying employment. Their families’ advise them against the move, but their minds are made up, as they are young, determined, and hopeful for a brighter future. When they finally get to Taipei, they discover that it is not the blissful affair they expected. Jobs are hard to get, and since they do not have requisite education, they can only find menial work that is difficult to do and pays little. However, they persevere and work hard, hoping to raise enough money to improve their lives, support their families back home, and get married. Eventually, A-yuan enrolls in the army and spends three years.  However, A-Yun starts dating another man while A-yuan continues sending her money, hoping that he will marry her soon. When he comes out, A-Yun has married someone else. Therefore, the events depict a typical love story that ends in betrayal disappointment for the man.


The film is an exposition of the struggle for life by young people in Taiwan. The Asian countries like Taiwan and her neighbors are experiencing much economic expansion, and it is expected that the growth in the fortunes of the countries will translate into better economic times for the people. For example, in the town in which A-yuan and A-yun begin their life and education, there is mining, which means the country is endowed with valuable natural resources. However, life for the common citizens is a struggle and the people have a difficult task trying to provide basic resources to their families. A-yun works during the day and goes to school at night, a perfect manifestation of a struggling individual. It is inconceivable that he can manage to be a good student after the difficult job of being an apprentice. A-yuan also works as a tailor, and the job is not rewarding as income remains low. It is understandable that they would think of quitting school to look for employment in a bigger town. However, the viewer is made to feel the hopeless state of the people when they get to Taipei and the struggle gets worse.


The film utilizes some techniques to highlight the theme of struggle. There is the use of close up scenes, an example being the shot on a train that captures A-yuan and A-yun. The technique forces the audience to focus on the two characters, which is significant early in the film. It enables the viewer to memorize their faces and focus on them as the main participants in the events that make up the story. Secondly, the film utilizes realism as a way of making the audience visualize the significance of the events and relate them to the daily life of people in society. Unlike other movies that showcase men carrying out impossible feats such a jumping off a plane in the air and surviving, Dust in the Wind is full of normal episodes such as sharing a meal, smoking a cigarette, or watching a movie. The audience would easily forget that they are watching a fictional movie and imagine that they are watching a true life documentary on the hardships faced by young people trying to make a living in Taiwan.


The love story is emotionally portrayed, especially when seen from the perspective of A-yuan. He loves A-yun from his heart and will do anything to marry her. He drops out of school so that he can work and raise enough money to marry her. When he arrives in the city, he works hard and ensures that she joins him a year later, and he saves every coin as the rest of the men enjoy all their earnings. When he joins the military, he is detached from the rest of the soldiers who seek to enjoy their money and engage in fun activities. Instead, he saves every coin and sends it to A-yun. However, three years is a long time and when he comes out of the barracks, A-yun has married somebody else, which leaves the audience with pity.

The story reinforces the economic angle of the film and strengthens the need for people, especially men, to work hard to satisfy the great demands of society. The theme of betrayal and human weakness comes out strongly in the storyline. The decision by A-yun to marry another man and fail to inform A-yuan is the epitome of betrayal. The betrayal of A-yuan is symbolic of the way governments fail their citizens and give all the profits to foreign investors, leaving the citizens poor.


In some instances, the film utilizes a combination of long and short shots, or mobile camera technique to create the feeling of mobility. An example is when the film opens, and a small dark dot appears at the center of the screen. It starts getting bigger, and the viewer soon realizes that the dot is moving towards the screen. In reality, it is the camera moving towards what turns out to be a tunnel. Soon, the whole screen is engulfed in darkness and the viewer gets the feeling of being on the train too, moving through the tunnel towards an unknown destination. When analyzed in view of what happens later in the story, the tunnel and the darkness represent the dangers and the risks of the love story and the employment search story.

A close-up shot is used to show A-yuan and A-yun during the happier times, which is replaced by a long short when things start deteriorating between them. For example, towards the end of the film, soldiers are seen playing a pool game. The camera is placed above them at a distance, and the image is scrambled and hazy. The soldiers keep walking in and out of the room, and the camera does not focus on the character speaking at a time. The viewer gets a feeling of the distance between himself and the characters, which shows the detachments that is slowly developing between the two characters and between A-yuan and the other soldiers. Shortly later, another long shot shows A-yun vomiting, in a scene that repulses the audience and reminds the viewer of the sad love story.


The film can be criticized for failing to balance its presentation of society. There is too much negativity, with the poverty in the town, A-yun and A-yuan failing to finish their education, and the apprenticeship that difficult and pays little. In addition, when they go to the capital to look for employment, life only gets worse, and during his years at the military, A-yuan is sad, lonely, and melancholic while the rest of the soldiers spend their money in a reckless lifestyle that includes smoking, drinking, and engaging prostitutes. To crown it all, there is a betrayal by A-yun despite A-yuan’s dedication and commitment to the love affair. One would say that the writers decided to give the story a completely negative interpretation that fails to take into consideration the fact that every society has positive and negative aspects. Therefore, the film may be accused of failing to give a realistic portrayal of the country. Moreover, it is not possible that Taiwan does not have any positive aspects that the film could highlight.


The film utilizes dull lighting to symbolize the doom in the life of the characters, and by extension, for the citizens of the country. There is a noticeable contrast between light and dark as the train moves towards the capital city. If it is in a movie theater, the whole room is engulfed in darkness that is followed by bright light moments later. However, darkness dominates a larger part of the viewing, which signifies doom in the play. The film utilizes lighting to a great degree compared to others in the same genre. The film opens with darkness but slowly moves towards light, which is used to transport the viewer to the new world. The lighting technique is effective in the portrayal of doom and gloom in the film.


The film maker’s intention in giving the story a sad ending is not clear. Taiwan is a growing country in which many young people have hope for a better future, and artists such as filmmakers have the duty to educate them on the need for hard work to make their lives better. The film is notable for its failure to show any benefits of working hard in life as A-yun does. Actually, it would be categorized as a film that shows that there is no need to work hard. While it is correct to highlight the problems facing the community and its young people, it should not have been at the expense of showing the value of hard work and dedication to relationships.


In some instances, the viewer has no idea what the characters are saying, and must depend on the occurrences in the film to understand. The film also incorporates many details, which can make the viewer lose track of the main storyline. The plot incorporates details such as eating, smoking, and even visiting the toilet, which do not contribute directly to the main storyline. Instead, they help in building the feeling of confusion and a blur of the lives of the characters.


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