Outside the Window

Reviewed by YTSL

This Taiwanese film has never been shown in cinemas in its native country and is not readily available anywhere in the world.  Although it was a big hit in Hong Kong -- and presumably elsewhere in East Asia -- when it was released there nearly three decades ago, it can hardly be considered to be a cinematic gem by any stretch of the imagination.  Yet this admittedly maudlin melodrama is a movie that I was very happy to come across and which I have a feeling that quite a few Hong Kong moviephiles would quite gladly watch if given the chance.

This is because OUTSIDE THE WINDOW is the debut movie of Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia.  However strange it may seem for those who have not (yet) fallen under her spell, there is incredible novelty value in watching this screen goddess in a film that was completed:  At least one decade before she made her Hong Kong movie debut as the Ice Countess in Tsui Hark's landmark "Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain"; and some TWENTY years before she would become Asia the Invincible (in "Swordsman II" and "The East is Red"), The Bride with White Hair, The Defeat-Seeking Loner (of "Ashes of Time") and Wong Kar Wai's Gloria (in "Chungking Express").  For those who have read about her real-life romance(s) as well as watched the heart-rending "Red Dust", there is tremendous irony and poignancy in her tragic OUTSIDE THE WINDOW character getting involved in a socially unacceptable relationship and then essentially forced into marriage with a man...who is portrayed by an actor (Chin Han) who met the actress nicknamed "Wondrous Beauty" (by the Chinese media) on the set of this film, subsequently divorced his wife for her and last partnered her on screen in Yim Ho's 1990 directorial effort.
How Brigitte Lin (or Lin Ching Shyia, as she is credited in the film) came to be found to star -- and, make no mistake, she is its centerpiece, heart and soul -- in OUTSIDE THE WINDOW appears shrouded in myths and legend.  One source tells of her being "discovered" on a busy Taipei street.  According to another (Toby Russell), the then teenager was noticed by a director when she accompanied a friend to the audition for the movie.  The story goes that the woman who would go on to be a magnetic presence in 100+ Hong Kong as well as Taiwanese films had no prior acting aspirations or experience whatsoever, and was picked to appear in this circa 1971-1973 production primarily on the basis of her classic beauty rather than any thespian talent.
Even if all of this were not true, it would still be amazing to see someone -- who possibly was still a school student when this feature was made -- having to do so much and so successfully in her very first film.  In a spoiler-filled nutshell:  Lin's character goes from being a school girl who has spats with her younger brother and is primarily concerned with passing her pre-university exams to an embittered and abused -- at least once -- wife.  Along the way, she falls in love with a teacher who is twenty years her senior (played by Hwyu Chyi) and attempts suicide after being forbidden by her parents to see him.
Brigitte and Chin Han
More evidence of truth being liable to be stranger than fiction comes from this sensational(ist) story being a thinly veiled autobiography of a popular romance novelist (named Qiong Yao).  It was purportedly at the author's request -- for fear that the tale would bring shame to her mother -- that this movie was not released in Taiwan.  I must admit to wondering about the validity of this report since the film was based on a 1963 book that Qiong Yao herself had written.
In any case, in quite a few ways, one can view this fairly modest production as containing so many portends of what was to come.  Among them is the fact that although Lin Ching-Hsia was a popular star of many Taiwanese movies -- mostly weepies like OUTSIDE THE WINDOW -- in the 1970s (the era known as that of "the two Chins and the two Lins"; with one of the Chins being Chin Han, and the two Lins being the woman who has also been credited as Venus -- again, because of her noted loveliness -- and the actress who disappeared from public view after marrying Jackie Chan), Hong Kong was where Brigitte Lin really would come into her own.

My rating for the film:  5.5; my rating for (the pre-Brigitte) Lin Ching-Hsia:  9.

For an article on Brigitte Lin and Chin Han, click here.