The End of the Track
David Meyer, Donald Chua
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…an imperfect film, but also a deeply fascinating one.
Hsiao-tung and Yung-shen are best friends who spend their time wandering the countryside, training for athletics, and hanging out at the dumpling stall operated by Yung-shen’s parents. When Yung-shen suffers an unexpected heart attack on the track field, it shakes his parents to the core – and send Tung into a downhill spiral.
Director Mou Tun-fei’s 1970 drama is a modest affair: shot in a low budget, primarily on location in Taiwan. It is also a somewhat notorious production, having been banned on original release by the ruling Kuomintang government. The ostensible reason for the film’s banning was alleged homosexuality – and there’s little denying the homoerotic subtext between its two teenage leads – but there were also reported concerns that the film was politically incompatible with the government’s own repressive regime. With Taiwan enjoying proper democracy since the mid-1990s, The End of the Track is now released from censorship and makes a fascinating time capsule for 21st century viewers.
While viewers have compared Mou’s style to Italian neorealist, his film also feels remarkably Japanese in tone and technique. This is not a surprise; between 1895 and 1945, Taiwan was under Japanese control, and the culture of one country almost certainly rubbed off onto the other in that time.
The End of the Track is shot in black and white, with a large amount of hand-held photography popping up between more static shots. There is a relatively mundane quality to the bulk of the footage, but occasionally a key shot will use a striking angle or inventive framing and make a sudden impression. Moments of trauma are presented as rapid-cut montages that accentuate the sense of panic and confusion. It is all a remarkable achievement: this was Mou’s second feature film – both of them banned by the government – and he made them after graduating from Taiwan’s National School of Art, a college so impoverished that it did not have any filmmaking equipment for its students to train with.
The storyline is a relatively simple one: it establishes a close friendship, and then shatters it with a sudden fatality. The bulk of the film covers Hsiao-tung’s emotional struggle: drawn closer to Yung-shen’s grieving parents and away from his own. It is the cast that sell the film more than the material. They perform in a slightly stylised manner that makes the film feel somewhat older than it really is. It is consistently done, however, so works perfectly well.
This is an imperfect film, but also a deeply fascinating one. The thickly laid homo-eroticism of its first act marks it out as an important work for Taiwan’s LGBTI film history, whereas the resulting drama makes for a valuable insight into the earlier years of Taiwanese cinema.
The End of the Track is screening as part of the Neon Gods film series at the Domain Theatre in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, on March 6 & 10. For more information, check the website here. https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/calendar/neon-gods/