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Iconic Track “A Pure Person” From Cult Film Millenium Mambo Is Reinterpreted for Our Melancholic Times

Originally released in 2001, the lush electronic composition from the Palme d'Or-nominated film receives a new twist

In Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s 2001 film Millennium Mambo’s iconic opening scene Lim Giong’s ghostly song “A Pure Person” plays over a slow motion view of Vicky (Shu Qi) walking through a long blue tunnel—paralleling the dark cave of her on-again, off-again relationship 10 years past, “right as the world was greeting the 21st century.”

The movie is possibly one of the most notable Taiwanese films to captivate western audiences, if not Asian American audiences; Shu Qi’s most relatable quality being her rootless disposition. After working as a bar hostess in Taipei and breaking up with an abusive ex-boyfriend, she eventually gets involved with another man only for disappointment to follow, cycling her back into an uncertain future. She is a drifter, floating through life in the shadows of dimly lit neon club lights.
Throughout the film, Giong’s hypnotic, original techno composition scores cocoon the malaise of aimless youth that often results in fixating one’s lifestyle around vices like drinking, smoking, drugs, or toxic relationships, scenes of ‘00 club hoppers and their ephemeral passions portraying an intimate look into the dance and nightlife culture of Taiwan. Entering the aughts was observed as a universally hopeful time, once signifying an era of new potential only to arrive with the same problems, as society has now learned amid a global pandemic—just as Vicky did looking back into her life at the beginning of the film. Like the repetition in Giong’s tracks thudding to her endless return to inconclusive situations, the promise of beginnings fades and we more or less remain unchanged.
Arriving almost two decades later in a time where many dance floors have emptied out, Lim Giong gives escapists the chance to reflect on the unfolding of our brave new world through a meditative new album releasing October 15. Taking his original song “A Pure Person”–soundtracked in the film—the album features six renditions of the track recomposed through digital and vinyl by Giong alongside Taiwanese musicians Jieh (Holodec), Point, Alex Zhang Hungtai (formerly of Dirty Beaches), Non-confined Space, and YuYing Hsu. Produced by music manager Angela Lin, each artist on the album sonically interprets their own meaning of what it means to be a pure person in 2020, a year that’s tested the collective strength of all through trials of personal and political warfare—revealing a sobering reality that no one lives a life morally unstained. With the proceeds committed to go towards charity, there’s one philosophy Lin has kept in mind since proposing the project to the artists: to pursue neither money nor prestige, but to inspire others to try to be a pure person. “
When I embarked on this idea, it was after my mom passed,” explains Lin. “On the phone during the very last conversation we had, she told me I should pursue my dreams to reach out to Lim Giong in Taiwan. I was working a music job at Stones Throw at the time which wasn’t fulfilling, and I moved to Taiwan searching for Lim to create a new sense of meaning.”

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Millennium Mambo’s Opening Scene

Lim Giong had intended artists to bring a more classical and symphonic composition to the project, leaning towards traditional Taiwanese sounds and improv jazz within the electronic recordings. Giong, whose roots are originally in pop music, has indirectly influenced everyone on the record artistically at some point in their career, bridging the gap between younger, aboriginal, and older generations of Taiwanese people. Leading the album is his opening track “Recite”, the most operatic version of the compilation, leading into the second rendition from his close and longtime creative collaborator, Point, who samples vocals from children and Giong speaking in Taiwanese about what it means to be a good person in the world over melodic instrumentals: “I hope that sometimes everyone will think about it, and step on the brakes, and look back at some of our own ancient things,” he says on the track. “It may help us face the complexities and difficulties in front of us. Why should we choose the method of conflict, when the result is always the same?”

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For Taiwanese diaspora musician Jieh, known for his work on Holodec project and collaborations with Timetable Records and Nosaj Thing, mixed media is one method he uses in the album to animate infinite human potential, a space where one can birth a new reality, inspired by one’s past, present and future. “What I always felt the film captured so well, and the mood of Lim Giong’s original song,” says Jieh, “is that life is a bittersweet pursuit. It plays out often in ways we don’t intend because much of life is beyond our control.” What is in our control, he says, “is our intent and attempt to be true to oneself, and in that regard, to strive to be a pure person.” Saxophone player Minyen Hsieh of the duo Non-Confined Space approaches a more technical interpretation of “A Pure Person”, improvising layers of atmospheric, live saxophone with samples of the original track’s spoken word. What resonates most about Lim’s lyrics to “A Pure Person”, is that it flows like the mantras of Buddhist scripture, a reminder that our way of relating to one another comes from what the simple, mundane moments afford us: “Kindness, ordinary happiness. Innocent people, every time they see.”
Looking back on her experience working with Giong, Lin explains how, in another great line in a song of his, called “Love Academy,” he talks about the fact that “we all have to take shits. He’s funny like that. To be ordinary is to be a broken, shitty person but to live with the knowledge that we are all broken.” Thoughtful, melancholic, and visceral, throughout the album, listeners are offered a momentary respite from the chaotic state of the world, an assemblage of personal philosophies that provoke empathy, contemplation, and possibly inspiration as we endure 2020 and head into an unknown future.

Pre-order “A Pure Person” on October 15th on Bandcamp.

Vivien Lee is an artist, poet, and freelance journalist covering art and design.

Photography credits: Acudus Aranyian, Archi Chang, Donovan Novotny, Enol Cheng, and Sean Marc Lee