Recently restored, this is a real gem of classic Taiwanese cinema that inspired the country’s more modern movies…
If only some modern romantic comedies were this well-made. May 13th, Night of Sorrow, which was released in 1965 and portrays the relationship between two sisters, is a real gem of classic Taiwanese cinema with a lively story and charming scenes.
It is directed by Lin Tuan-Chiu (b.1920) who made just six features and was somewhat forgotten until the Taiwan Film Institute’s recent restoration of his films. Lin studied in Tokyo and this Japanese influence is perceptible in May 13th, which has hints of Ozu in its simple unaffected narrative style. Lin was also a playwright and the film shows his feel for drama and ability to draw out great performances from his cast.
May 13th, Night of Sorrow has been hailed as the forerunner of Taiwan’s ‘coming of age’ movies (think The Boys from Fengkuei and You Are The Apple Of My Eye) and it offers a wonderfully sensitive portrait of two sisters as they enter into adult life and begin to explore love and romance for the first time.
After their mother dies, the beautiful elder sister Siok-Hui is left taking care of her equally attractive younger sister Siok-Tshing. To provide for them both, Siok-Hui works in a nightclub where she sings and dances, watched by the longing eyes of the local businessmen. She attracts the attention of one rich customer, in particular, a really sleazy character whose advances she desperately tries to avoid. This character is nicely played in a funny, exaggerated fashion.
As the film begins, the younger sister Siok-Hui is interviewing for her first job in a local factory making pharmaceutical products. She worries about the social stigma attached to their family by her big sister’s improper nightclub work and the shadow this might cast over her own entry into adult life.
Scoring the new job, she starts work and soon falls for a handsome young colleague. Little does she realise that this same young man is just beginning a blossoming relationship with her older sister, the two of them strolling romantically side by side along the sandy beach. May 13th, Night of Sorrow has some wonderful scenes where the two young women are taken out on dates.
After setting up and twisting together these separate plot strands, Lin lets the drama play out in a lively fashion, building to a great scene where the two sisters finally discover they are both in love with the same man. May 13th has great performances from the two lead roles, really capturing the close relationship between the two sisters and the way they are affected by each other.
Some of the visual scenes are also quite special. In one scene, the emotions stabbing through the two love-torn sisters are mirrored by lightning flashing across the sky, and then they are shown running frantically through the pouring rain. In another flowing scene, Siok-Tshing and her colleague go on a date, riding a scooter out into the countryside and then sailing along the river.
In this scene and several others, the silent visuals are accompanied by traditional love songs, the lyrics of which help to narrate the story. This elegant, effective device helps to give the film a distinctive tone. Although some of the acting is a bit melodramatic, and the shots a little jerky, to me these old-fashioned quirks only added to the endearing qualities.
Few are likely to choose to see such a venerable film, but those who are willing to give it go will be rewarded with an enjoyable and interesting watch. For fans of Taiwanese cinema, it’s also worth watching to understand some of the sources of inspiration which more modern directors have drawn upon.