Outside the Window’s milestone status in Asian film stems largely from one thing: Brigitte Lin’s extraordinary first acting role. Placed front and centre in the 1973 production, the young actress became instantly popular as the movie hit cinemas around Asia. Yet Lin’s debut is actually one of several strong points of the trend-setting picture – an accomplished tale of forbidden love that sparked a run of romantic melodramas from Taiwan.
Cast in the leading role after being talent-scouted at the age of 17, Lin arrived on screens as Taipei high-school student Chiang Yen-yung. She and her friends turn up to class in their final year to find handsome and dedicated teacher Kang Nan (Hwu Chyi) is their new form master. After he encourages them to write regular compositions, he and Yen-yung start to connect, and affection quickly grows between them. But with teacher-student romance and a 20-year age gap sure to be frowned upon by students, family and others, the love-struck pair face a tough road ahead in trying to stay together.
Based on the semi-autobiographical debut novel of Taiwan romance writer Chiung Yao, Outside the Window scored a strong reception when it played in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. (Taiwan release was ruled out, however, as the filmmakers hadn’t secured the writer’s permission.) While the stream of roadblocks in the couple’s romance risk becoming repetitive, not least in Lin’s strained relationship with her stern mother, co-directors Sung Tsun-shou and Yok Teng-heung deliver a classy picture of a couple struggling with love against all odds. The filmmakers mostly steer clear of sensationalism and overwrought melodrama, and employ poetic writing in Lin’s compositions to pleasing effect. And while the tone and palette are often carefully muted, with even whole scenes staged in shadows, the film still moves at a fast and engaging clip towards its emotionally heavy finale.
Moviegoers witnessing Lin for the first time in 1973 may have been hard-pressed to believe the Yen-yung role was her first screen performance. The actress handles the debut with an air of confidence, remarkable nuance and a magnetic charm that’s ideal for the part. The character arc spans years, from high school through to adulthood, and Lin carries it all with an effortless and convincing turn. Little wonder, then, that she became a major draw and quickly plunged into a busy filming cycle, including further adaptations of Chiung Yao’s romance novels, to satisfy her fans.
Joining Lin on screen, Hwu Chyi makes for a terrific screen partner – he too navigating the relationship’s ups and downs with a subtle performance. And Chin Han picks up an attractive side role as a young man set up by Yen-yung’s meddling mother as a suitor. Chin would go on to have more than 20 performances alongside Lin, with the last being Red Dust in 1990.
Despite its merits, Outside the Window has for decades gone without proper home-video access. So the recent restoration of the film by Bologna-based L’Immagine Ritrovata makes for a welcome change. With the cleaned-up version now reaching festivals and special screenings, a new generation of film buffs can experience Lin’s stunning debut in the best possible light.
Born in the Jiangsu Province, Sung Tsun-shou (1929-2008) moved to Hong Kong in 1955. His first directing credit came in 1966 for A Perturbed Girl, co-directed with mentor Li Han-hsiang. After directing his last picture in 1982, Sung took up work in television.