Beautiful Duckling

World Premiere | Out Of Competition | Restored Classics


Young woman Yue and her adoptive father Lin Tsai-tien live a poor but happy life raising ducks in the countryside. Yet their tranquility is disrupted when Chao-fu, a Taiwanese opera performer, claims to be Yue’s biological brother and continually extorts money from Lin Tsai-tien by threatening to reveal Yue’s true identity. Over time, Chao-fu’s greed grows, and urged on by his wife, he even attempts to take Yue with him to form his own Taiwanese opera troupe. Faced with the inevitability of the siblings’ reunion and anxious for Yue’s well-being under Chao-fu’s dubious livelihood, Lin Tsai-tien decides to sell all their ducks and give the money to Chao-fu. Fortunately, Yue’s love for her adoptive father prevails, and she insists on staying with him, leading to a turning point in the situation. The “Healthy Realism” approach of Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC) emerged in conformity with the art and literature policies of the 1960s. Nevertheless, the new approach also provided filmmakers an opportunity to break away from making propaganda dramas. Beautiful Duckling is Lee Hsing’s first independently-directed color film for CMPC following on after Oyster Girl. The production design was inspired by the countryside watercolor paintings of Taiwanese artist Ran In-ting. The film adapted the Taiwanese folksong, “Embrace the Spring Breeze,” to create a pastoral and idyllic soundtrack, and blends breathtaking countryside vistas with local elements like Taiwanese opera and duck farm. The grand agricultural exhibition organized by the 4-H Club was placed in the background to soften any propagandistic intent linked to agricultural reform, while the narrative structure centers on family ties, highlighting the value of “gratitude for nurturing is greater than gratitude for giving birth.” In all, Beautiful Duckling laid the cornerstone for Healthy Realism films, serving as a significant work that offers insights into Taiwan’s early films and political propaganda.

Opening with a painting by Ran In-ting, Beautiful Duckling presents a vivid landscape of vitality with small bridges, streams, rural homesteads, and flocks of ducks, positioning itself as a hallmark of Healthy Realism aiming to capture the essence of natural scenery.

The story unfolds with the conflict over Yue between her adoptive father and her biological brother, ultimately resolving in a return to the principles of kindness, illustrating that even in popular dramas, people ultimately choose goodness over greed and selfishness.

This film, under the stewardship of Henry Kung, the then general manager of the CMPC, amidst the dominance of Hong Kong commercial cinema and the inherent mission of the Kuomintang (KMT) to propagate its values, leverages Lee Hsing’s mastery of the common man’s life and emotional depth. Despite its politically correct mission, the film triumphs in uplifting spirits and showcasing the potential of art. Set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s rural landscape, the film exalts familial piety and affection, with the simple duck-rearing family radiating a noble spirit of humanism and an enchanting simplicity. The movie combines screenwriter Chang Yung-hsiang’s succinct storytelling and Lai Cheng-ying’s vibrant cinematography, capturing wide shots of duck-rearing, rural labor, and the simple interactions among people. Particularly poignant is the scene where Yue rushes to catch up with her father at dusk, her calls and embrace against the setting sun encapsulate the genuine emotions of a magical moment, rendering the film’s innocence profoundly touching.

Sean Lee
Film director: LEE Hsing
Year: 1964
Running time: 111'
Country: Taiwan
29/04 - 2:00 PM
Visionario, Via Asquini 33
29-04-2024 14:00 29-04-2024 15:51Europe/Rome Beautiful Duckling Far East Film Festival Visionario, Via Asquini 33CEC Udine