The Man From The Island West


Reviewed by: Stephanie Brown

The Man From The Island West
"An interesting character study that observes the unreachability of inner contentment through the theme of existential suffering."

Huan Ming-Chuan's The Man From The Island West carries theme, story and characterisation in a delicate storm that transports viewers into the setting via sensory and spiritual subtleties. The use of minimalism in the aesthetic and script of Huan’s low-budget gem make the philosophical questions at the heart of the story as elusive and mysterious as the inner worlds of the characters and their existential journeys.

The film opens with an ethereal sequence of a man, Ah-Ming (Wu Hong-ming), limping through tunnels that give an underworldly feel to the mood and tone. We see him exit to the coastline where a car is burning, and it is revealed that he has been rescued from a suicide attempt, witnessed by another man, Ah-Chuan (Chen Yi-wen). The relationship between the two men quickly becomes strained when Hsiu Mei (Shaw Tswe-fen), Ah-Chuan’s former girlfriend, returns from Taipei.

Copy picture

The Man from the Island West is an interesting character study that observes the unreachability of inner contentment through the theme of existential suffering. Huan’s film begins with a car trapped in flames, dark and dormant tunnels and an ever-expanding sea, instilling a sense of separation from the coastal community and the rest of the world. Ah-Chuan longs for Taipei, a place that Hsiu Mei tells him he will never fit into. For Ah-Chuan there is a sense of optimism in his worldview - if he can only escape the purposelessness of the village. For Ah-Ming, he longs to discover his roots as a way to further understand himself.

Hsiu Mei’s character becomes a metaphysical representation of the protagonists’ polarities, one who has accepted that there is nowhere she really belongs in ever-changing Taiwan, but possesses the freedom to challenge the societies that refuse to accept her.

Huan’s use of an old folk tale to guide the narrative adds more mysticism and a note of futility to the ambience. It is unclear whether the land itself, the oppression of tradition and expectations on the characters’ sense of self, or whether their conscious choices were already set to seal the fate of the climax. As the film draws to a close, the poetic ambiguity imbued within the conclusion invites us to ponder further.

The Man From The Island West is a deeply moving piece of cinema and Huan’s independent treasure is one that amplifies the endless possibilities of low-budget film. His direction explores the elusiveness of identity and the fear of the unknown with soulfulness and artistry.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2022
Share this with others on...
The Man From The Island West packshot
Two men search for meaning in an impoverished coastal village in Taiwan, straying further from the community through their journeys.

Director: Huang Ming-Chuan

Writer: Cheng Hui-Hua, Huang Ming-Chuan

Starring: Dalu Baryen, Yi-wen Chen, Tswe-fen Shaw

Year: 1991

Runtime: 90 minutes


Search database: