In a Strange City

on April 26, 1996 by Kim Williamson
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   Looking at Chi Yin's c.v.--a technologist who's expert in software design and space communications--one wouldn't expect his first feature film to resonate with such emotion and beauty. Yet the Taipei technodweeb turned UCLA film school student turned movie director in helping translate Wen-tsai Dai's short stories to the silver screen has left the outer space of satellites behind to burrow deeply into the inner spaces of the human heart.
   "In a Strange City" (which would be better titled "In a Distant City") tells the story of a quiet substitute high school teacher, Yu Jane (played sublimely by Kuei-mei Yang, soon to be seen in Strand's "Vive L'amour"), who secretly carries on a torrid love affair with a business entrepreneur, Xiang Guo-chien (Winston Chao, who appeared with Kuei-mei in Ang Lee's "Eat Drink Man Woman"). Because he's married and running for political office under a "Clear Stream" banner, Xiang cannot afford the social disgrace that would befall him were his infidelity known, so their trysts occur only on chance weekends in a small town far from Taipei.
   Other story elements--the two met after her brother's death; Yu's best friend (Angela Chang) is involved in a dicey business proposition; Xiang has dealings with political mobsters; and especially the subplot involving the life-on-the-edge troubles of a young student (a fine Rong-gao Gu), who reminds Yu of the girl she was but also of the woman she has become--provide effective refractions of the main narrative's theme. Like fellow countryman Ang's first film, "Pushing Hands," "In a Strange City" makes a champagne launch for a director with a fine humanist touch.    Starring Kuei-men Yang and Winston Chao. Directed by Chi Yin. Wen-tsai Dai and Chi Yin. Produced by Li-kong Hsu. A Filmopolis release. Drama. Chinese-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 104 min.
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