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The Most Distant Course
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(left) Mo Zi-Yi and (right) Guey Lun-Mei in The Most Distant Course.
Chinese: 最遙遠的距離  
Year: 2007  
Director: Lin Jing-Jie  
  Cast: Guey Lun-Mei, Mo Zi-Yi, Jia Xiao-Guo
  The Skinny: Director Lin Jing-Jie's road trip of self-discovery is slow and sometimes contrived. It's also involving and moving, and features fine acting and a very lovely look at the sights and sounds of Taiwan.
by Kozo:

Taiwan has never sounded lovelier than in The Most Distant Course, the feature-length debut of director Lin Jing-Jie (Bad Girl Trilogy). The film follows three disparate characters suffering their own forms of alienation and heartbreak. Xiao Tang (Mo Zi-Yi) is a young sound recordist who's apparently a bit of a mess. When we first meet him, he's late for his job, and is about to pay the price; he oversleeps, and shows up late for a film shoot only to discover that he's been replaced. After apologizing to the crew and the director, he ends up weeping along the roadside, sound equipment slung over his shoulder and fuzzy boom mike in hand.

Cai (Jia Xiao-Guo) is a psychiatrist who takes his role-playing a bit too far, into counseling sessions containing sexually explicit diatribes, or even into his dealings with prostitutes. One day, while getting ready for another day at the office, Cai switches from his standard shirt-and-tie get-up into a casual outfit, whereupon he abandons his job, and begins a seemingly aimless road trip. He ends up at a roadside shop, where he attempts to seduce the local betelnut beauty, before getting involved in a potential blackmail scam. Thanks to some contrived but entertaining circumstances, he gets bailed out by Xiao Tang, and the two hit the road together.

Finally, there's Wu Ruoyun (Guey Lun-Mei), a young office worker whose status as a third party in a relationship leaves her frequently alone, nursing a bottle of liquor. She's alienated by her current life, but finds solace in audio tapes she receives in the mail, labeled "Sounds of Formosa". Each tape contains ambient sound from around Taiwan, including audio collected from windbreak forests, local fish markets, aboriginal tribes, and the simple sound of waves. The tapes are not meant for Ruoyun, but for the former tenant of her apartment. However, Ruoyun begins listening to the tapes anyway, using them to escape from her daily commute and office grind. One day she decides to chase the source of the sounds herself, beginning her own personal journey.

The Most Distant Course is an involving, but not very forthcoming motion picture, choosing to introduce its characters in a rather unrevealing fashion. There's no voiceover and little expository dialogue here. Each character is introduced in the midst of their lives, and deducing exactly what they're about takes patience and time. Luckily, writer-director Lin Jing-Jie has a winning narrative device in Xiao Tang, who's compiling the "Sounds of Formosa" for a former girlfriend who jilted him. The tapes are reaching Wu Ruoyun instead, creating a minor tension that the two lovelorn young people will one day meet and perhaps ease each other's heartbreak. However, that outcome is secondary to the journey itself, and thanks to Xiao Tang's pursuit of sound, the film's slow-paced narrative unfolds pleasantly. The characters gradually reveal pieces of themselves, and along the way the audience is introduced to Taiwan's sights and sounds, which seem simultaneously familiar and yet uniquely beautiful.

Lin's use of sound helps bring us closer to the characters. The beauty of the sounds and the characters' attraction to them are convincingly conveyed, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters. Ultimately, the destinations they reach are not very special, nor do they necessarily meet standard audience expectation. Each character may not find what they're looking for, but some measure of peace or understanding is discovered, with the outcomes sometimes quietly devastating. Some characters reach an obvious catharsis, while others don't, and their differing fates are subtle and affecting. The themes and emotions in The Most Distant Course don't qualify as new, but the way in which Lin Jing-Jie spins them onto celluloid feels compelling and even accomplished.

Mo Zi-Yi is exceptionally sympathetic as the sensitive Xiao Tang, giving his character an innate and compelling likeability. Guey Lun-Mei is remarkable in her emotion-saturated introspective gazes; the young actress has seemingly cornered the industry on emotional depth via only one or two facial expressions. Both actors, however, are outshone by Jia Xiao-Guo. The actor's deep voice and intense, rough charm make him a very imposing and charismatic figure, and his journey is arguably the most affecting one. It's also given to the most extreme conclusion, and the contrivance with which it arrives could alienate some audiences. Then again, alienated audience members would probably be upset with the film in general, because it seldom tells them how to feel, and instead asks for their patience and empathy. The Most Distant Course is a fitting title for this movie; reaching the film's goal takes a while, and getting there requires the audience to give more than they may be used to. However, the reward is there, and it's worth seeking out. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2007)

Awards: 2007 Venice Film Festival
Critic's Week Award

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Edko Films Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin Language Track
Removable English Subtitles

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