The third of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “coming of age” trilogy, Dust in the Wind (1986) tells the universal and archetypal story of a young couple from a small village who decamp for the big city, little prepared for the struggles that they will encounter upon arrival.
Hou was born in southeast China in 1947, but his family fled to Taiwan within a year, a not uncommon exigency in a period of civil war. A painful experience of cultural and geographical dislocation would come to inform Hou’s sensibility from an early age, as would a general spirit of drift and lassitude. After toiling for a time on the periphery of the nascent Taiwanese commercial film industry, Hou directed his highly regarded “coming of age” trilogy from 1984 to 1986, culminating in Dust in the Wind. In retrospect, these films would come to be considered instrumental in the birth of a Taiwanese New Wave, one of the central developments in World Cinema of the 1980s and 1990s.
Dust in the Wind references cinema’s connection to industrial modernity and Taiwan’s rapid modernization in the 1980s. Large-scale migration of farmers and villagers to major urban centres, trains, supplanted geography, transience and dispossession. Both universal in theme and deeply personal in nature, Dust in the Wind is one of Hou’s most celebrated and revered works, demonstrating that both young love and the city itself can break your heart in any number of ways.
-Written by Jason Wierzba