Familial legacy and frustrated dreams conspire against father and son in Lim Lung-yin’s striking 16mm debut, Ohong Village (蚵豐村) . Set in a small oyster farming community on the southern shore of Taiwan, Lim’s anti-urban panorama is an ambivalent contemplation of small-town existence as its trio of frustrated male protagonists find themselves caught in an existential riptide torn between a nostalgia for a simpler life and the lure of the new and the modern far away in the cities.
30-year-old Sheng (Lin Yui-Hsu) left the village seven years previously and has rarely visited during his time away but has now come home for his sister’s wedding where he boasts of his vast success, his claims of earning millions daily ringing somewhat hollow. As it seems, things have not gone entirely well in Taipei and Sheng most likely is not intending to return. His old friend Kun (Chen Hsin-Tai) who stayed in the village, similarly boasting of the vast sums he too earns as a top oyster shucker, has a business proposition for him, hoping to capitalise on the recent tourism craze by renovating the raft his father left him and turning it into a tourist boat selling the oyster farmer experience to people from the cities. Meanwhile, the oyster business seems to be on its last legs, Sheng’s embittered father Ming (King Jie-wen) unceremoniously dumped by a business contact who flatly tells him that his oysters are no longer plump enough and he’ll be going across town to source his catch in future.
Ming’s sense of hopeless disappointment is additionally acute because, as we’re told, his father was a big man on the island whose catch extended far and wide. Grandma (Wu Mei-he) laments that in the old days the community were happy working together on the salt flats but now the fields are flooded and those who were wealthy left the village never to return. Angry with himself for his perceived failure to live up to his father’s legacy, Ming is also resentful of his son whom he sent to the city to make a better life for himself only to see him return with nothing other than disappointment and a sense of internalised inadequacy. Frustrated by his hollow self aggrandising he snaps at Sheng to cut the “bullshit”, but otherwise pushes him away, discouraging his friendship with Kun who he sees as everything he wanted Sheng not to be, and pouring scorn on the boys’ newfound dream of tourist boat entrepreneurship.
For his part, Sheng begins to reconnect with his grandfather’s legacy perhaps literally given direction by the old compass he finds among his possessions which leads him to a distant shore on which sits a giant and mysterious statue. Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “faith”, Sheng had been otherwise sceptical of traditional thinking, snapping at Ming for talking to a tree in communicating with his late father and unconvinced by Kun’s divinatory claims asking who it is who’s making his decisions him or God. Nevertheless, a drunken voyage through the neon-lit streets provokes in him visions of the upcoming festival, while he too later finds himself taking refuge in ritual and risking all to protect a lonely tree from an oncoming storm.
Kun asks his friend why he didn’t ask him to come when he left, and Sheng gives him the unconvincing excuse that Kun is a man who loves his freedom and wouldn’t have taken well to the city where there are rules which must be followed. Kun agrees that there’s freedom in the village, but he doesn’t know what to do with it. While Sheng begins to find his direction, accepting his legacy and his place, Kun travels in the other direction doing something stupid and chasing the dreams Sheng has now abandoned though there’s no real way to know if his own claims of vast riches are yet more “bullshit” or an ironic boon that mirrors Sheng’s progress towards inner peace.
Shot on grainy 16mm and scored with a mix of traditional folk instrumentation, synths, and retro pop, Ohong Village is imbued with a sense of melancholy nostalgia for a way of life that has in a sense already disappeared but also with frustration and youthful ennui as the two young men search for hope and possibility while Ming is left only with lonely middle-aged disappointment and an ambivalent desire for his son both to go and to stay. Reimagining the village as a space of both purgatorial ruination and possible salvation, Lim’s etherial drama finds little other than despair and emptiness in its flooded vistas but offers perhaps also a strange sense of melancholy warmth if only in the intensity of its longing.
Original trailer (English subtitles)