Blood & Milk - Soundless Wind Chime at 10
How much time does it take to accept that a person has passed away? Ghosts and memory loom large in Soundless Wind Chime, a gay love story that transcends borders both national and spiritual. CINEMQ revisits the film for its tenth anniversary, and talks to writer-director Kit Hung about his inspiration.
A young man looks up at the sky, flat on his back in the street. Blinking, he tries to take in his surroundings with pure, animal shock. Milk spreads around his head like a halo, followed swiftly by blood. So begins Soundless Wind Chime. Kit Hung's Teddy Award nominated film is a meditative, sometimes musical, marvel. Its ongoing legacy is like its title - quiet but engaging, like a koan.
Ricky (Lu Yu Lai) is new to Hong Kong from the mainland. He lives with his sex worker aunt (Wella Zhang) and makes a living as a delivery boy. His careful construction of a life is interrupted when he is pick-pocketed by Pascal (Bernhard Bulling), a Swiss immigrant getting by as a thief whilst living with his abusive con-artist boyfriend. A second chance encounter leads Ricky and Pascal to begin a romantic relationship, with all the highs and eventual lows that entail. Intercut with this is a dreamlike parallel story: Ricky is in Switzerland, following a man name Ueli (also played by Bernhard Bulling). As they get closer, Ricky is confronted by the relationship he had, and lost, with Pascal.
The opening frames of the film are the last moments of Pascal's life. The blood is his. The milk an errand. His death a tragic accident.
“How much time does it actually take for you to accept that a person has passed away?” Hung muses to me on the phone when I ask him about the inspiration behind the film. “We know the facts, but our memories, emotions, body take longer to accept that.”
Soundless Wind Chime, like grief, does not fall easily into simple categories. Concurrently, it is an urban portrait, a bucolic childhood memoir, a gay love story, a queer meditation on death, and a glitzy musical. The threads shift and evolve as they are weaved together.
Time is fluid, and we slide through Ricky's memories, packing a series of emotional pinches that culminate in a punch. The characters’ perspective of time is syrupy from the outset, not only through Pascal’s death being revealed as a parenthesis to the other events, but also in flashbacks to his childhood in the Swiss mountains. This segues into the audience’s perception, giving a window into mystical and jarring sensations of grief.
There’s no other film quite like it, though it shares elements of its influences. There are shades of Happy Together (Wong Kar Wai, 1997) in Pascal’s abusive relationship, in Ricky and Pascal’s domestic travails and in the international setting. But it’s the bursts of magical realism that expand the dreaming dimensions of even seemingly minor characters make Soundless Wind Chime a unique vision.
Immigrants, sex workers and the elderly are given hope and agency through their dreams, veering away from easy sentiment. There is a deep compassion for each character running through every frame, particularly for the marginalised in society. The reality of caring for the elderly and the nature of sex work are shown as part of the fabric of the world, instead of being represented, as so often they are, as deeply grim or dehumanising acts. The complications of an abusive relationship for the victim within it are shown plainly, but it does not become the defining experience of Pascal’s life, nor extinguish all promise of a different future.
Ricky’s own future is marred by the sudden, unfair loss of Pascal, and seems even more at risk given the tentative elements of his present – uncertainty in work, a sense of distrust and isolation from his immediate family. His journey through Switzerland is a part-pilgrimage, part-vigil, for Pascal. In trying to get closer to his lost lover by visiting his homeland, Ricky drifts, himself a kind of ghost. Though going to another country may seem extreme, Ricky does not mourn in a hyperbolic, outward way. His grief is so deep, it barely rises to the surface.
“People ask me if this is about my partner but it’s actually about my partner’s parents passing away," Hung goes on to explain. "Filmmaking is a long process, so I needed to find a topic and motivations that would sustain me through my first feature, and this was the first time I’d experienced a significant loss of people close to me."
“They didn’t speak English and I don’t speak German, so we ended up communicating through body and non-verbal language, which is why there’s so little dialogue in Soundless Wind Chime. That sensation of being haunted by our former daily routines that we shared together was and the process of learning to let go of that are the emotions that I turned into the love story of Soundless Wind Chime.”
Ricky chances upon Ueli in the Swiss mountains, Pascal’s doppelgänger on sight but not in temperament, hoping for significance in this connection. But it is simply a coincidence. When he returns home to Hong Kong, a bird visits on his windowsill. Is it Pascal’s spirit returning to say goodbye? Soundless Wind Chime, in its uniquely compassionate, open wisdom, leaves us with no concrete answers. Instead, it wills us to share in Ricky’s contemplative joy and, perhaps, his first moment of acceptance.
Originally written in English. Images are from the film.
Words: Emily Benita Translation: Annabel Lee
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account or email firstname.lastname@example.org