Director: Chen Huai-En
Cast: Tung Ming-Hsiang, Wang Chien-Ho, Wu
Nien-Jen, Saya Chang, Hsu Hsiao-Shun
RunTime: 1 hr 48 mins
Official Website: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/EtudeBike
Island Etude follows the travels of Ming-Hsiang, a determined
young man with a hearing problem. Circling the island of Taiwan
on his bike, he meets a wonderful array of new friends. The
warmth and sensitivity of the interactions between Ming-Hsiang
and the people he meets, together with the strikingly beautiful
coastline, makes Island Etude a wonderful introduction to
the island of Formosa and its people.
If you like your movies simple and lyrical, then Island Etude
is just the movie for you.
story can be summed up plainly in a few words- a young college
student. Ming, decides to bike around the island of Taiwan
by himself a few months before his graduation carrying a guitar
on his back.
with hearing difficulties, Ming speaks with a slurred speech
and has learned how to play the guitar by watching others.
The word “etude” derives its meaning from a composition
Ming carries along with him- one that is designed to provide
him with practice material for playing the guitar.
Island Etude is less a drama about his motivations for his
round the island bike trip (or for that matter, his guitar
playing) than it is an observation of the people that Ming
meets along the way. Each encounter serves as a standalone
vignette, so while some (like a group of middle-aged women
whom go on a protest against their sudden retrenchment from
their factory jobs) are more memorable, and others (like a
family of three on a outing by the coast) less so, they are
it is a movie that pays homage to the diversities of people
on the island, from Ming’s own superstitious grandfather
to the Lithuanian model there on a job assignment. Yes, the
people are varied and many, and this is one of the delights
of watching this movie- that you will never know who you are
going to meet next.
ultimately, it is a tribute to the island of Taiwan itself,
its sights just as much as its people. Each undulation of
mountain or sea, each aspect of man or nature is framed ever
so picturesquely through the eyes of writer-director Chen
Huai-en. Best known as the famed cinematographer of Hou Hsiao
Hsien classics such as “A City of Sadness” and
“Good Men Good Women”, it is Chen’s eulogy
of the island’s beauty.
the most striking accomplishment of the movie is how it manages
to thoroughly engage with its laidback charm and simplicity.
Chen does not attempt to moralize or politicize anything in
his film (except for a brief environmental message towards
the end); instead, like Ming, he is content to let the audience
be casual observers in the journey. And to that extent, composer
Cincin Lee’s breezy score aids immeasurably in the enjoyment
of this expedition.
final words before you go on this journey- the best way you
are going to enjoy this island etude is keep an open mind
and simply let yourself go along for the ride. I guarantee
you that along the way, you will find yourself enjoying it
more than you’ll expect.
Review by Gabriel Chong