In his debut feature “Ohong Village”, director “Luke” Lim Lung Yin aims to give a voice to the voiceless by portraying a milieu of a remote fishing village in the times where the nature and the economy are about to ruin its prospects. From a description like this, it sounds a bit like a bog standard “social issues” type of festival cinema, but it is more unusual and meditative than that. Nevertheless, the film should have a healthy festival exposure after the premiere at Jeonju and official selection at Taipei. However, we obtained it through our Submit Your Film initiative.
The film opens with two friends, Sheng (Lin Yu Hsu) and Kun (Chen Hsin Tai) on a motor-powered raft, approaching the beach where the abandoned Buddha statue is surrounded by trash. Sheng poses as a successful man, coming back from Taipei for his sister’s wedding, dressed smartly and talking the big talk. The only one who does not buy it is his father Ming (the only professional actor in the cast, King Jie Wen), a man who has certainly seen some hardships in life. And he is right: Sheng is currently out of work and his life in Taipei was never idyllic.
Sheng’s family was once considered rich and prosperous in the village with a huge land and water base for oyster farming. Those days are long gone now, the whole village is sinking, the salt fields providing jobs to many were the first to go and the oyster business is shrinking. Ming’s idea of fighting to survive consists of constant visits to the medium supposedly connected to the General deity, while Kun has an idea for tourism-oriented business which is not bad and wants Sheng on board. The time of festivities approaches, unexpected things are about to happen and the villagers will expose themselves, for better or for worse.
In his film, Lim combines a number of influences, from Neorealism and the different schools of New Wave (mostly French, Japanese and Czechoslovak), to poetic realism of Andrei Tarkovsky. The European feeling a viewer can get watching “Ohong Village” is not by far strange and accidental, since Lim studiead at the famed FAMU in Prague. In his film, he is interested in surroundings as it is in story and that shows as the film goes on, especially in scenes of festivities and rituals filmed in long takes.
The cast of non-professionals for most of the roles serves the purpose as the first-timing actors blend in perfectly to the social landscape and keep their composure since their job is more to “be” than to “act”. However, for a person that carries the most of the emotional weight, Ming, Lin needs a proper actor and he finds one in King, also known as Hsi Hsiang, seen in numerous Taiwanese films and TV shows from mid-70s to mid-90s and in the last ten years. He is more than capable to carry the weight of a man who has possibly lived his life in vain.
On the technical side, “Ohong Village” is not just a competent film, it is pretty artful. Analogue camerawork by the young Russian DoP Alexander Elagin is pure poetry especially because it is rare nowadays to find something filmed on 16mm tape in all of its natural warmth and richness. Another thing to pay attention to is the sound design that combines the natural sounds of a certain place that is no stranger to some extreme weather and the music score made of traditional folk tunes, a splash of modern pop and slow, droning electronic noises written by Paul Scar.
“Ohong Village” might not be everybody’s cup of tea and it is a hard, demanding watch. But as a proof of craft and determination to fulfil the artistic vision, it most certainly works just fine.