Chinese painting and poetry connect the lovelorn and disenfranchised in “The Passage,” a Taiwanese meller that uses traditional arts as an avenue for a contempo analysis of eternal romantic dilemmas. Though knowledge of Chinese culture is not a pre-requisite, this second feature by Taiwanese director Cheng Wen-tang (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Venice 2002) will find its biggest market among sinologists, in Asia and beyond. Opening credits list the involvement of Taiwan’s National History Museum and final roller contains images of many of the institution’s wares.
Petite but determined Yu-ching (Guey Lun-mei) is working as a museum research assistant when a Japanese man, Tao (Yukihiko Kageyama), inquires about a piece of Chinese calligraphy entitled “The Cold Food Observance.” Yu-ching sees an opportunity here both for romance and for the healing of her friendship with an emotionally repressed pal, Dong Heng (Leon Dai), as the artwork is the center point of a book Dong is writing. However, Dong reacts with jealousy. Cheng’s calmly assured direction radiates quality but not much warmth, though sincere performances help to enliven the intense, frequently sluggish narrative. Chen Huai-en’s lensing is exquisite.