Thinking Aloud About Film: Hou Hsiao-hsien 4 – The Sandwich Man (1983)

A discussion of The Sandwich Man, an omnibus film based on the short stories of Hwang Chun-ming, with episodes from Hou Hsiao-hsien (His Son’s Big Doll aka The Sandwich Man), Tseng Shuan-hsiang (Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat/Vick’s Hat) and Wan Jen (The Taste of Apples), that is said to have helped launch New Taiwanese Cinema. We talk about the three different episodes, how so many New Waves incorporated omnibus or portmanteau films as a form of self advertisement, the relationship to The Bicycle Thief, the way it allegorises and comments on conflicts and changes in Taiwanese cinema and society….and much more. It can be listened to below:

 

The podcast can also be listened to on Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/show/2zWZ7Egdy6xPCwHPHlOOaT

and on itunes here: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/first-impressions-thinking-aloud-about-film/id1548559546

 

Jose’s part of the discussion drew on:

David Scott Diffrient’s, ‘The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,

and:  Wen Tien-Hsiang (Trans .by Gan Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol.9, No. 2, 2008, pp. 211-238.

Readers might also be interested in hearing the programmer of the Venice Film Festival talk about his discovery of this cinema, an excerpt from Chinlin Hsieh’s Flowers of Taipei: Taiwanese New Wave Cinema, 2014.

According to Diffrient, these films were ‘Made for a ‘younger, more educated audience’ than their predecessors of the previous decades, and foregrounding aspects of ‘indigenous Taiwanese life’ that were becoming increasingly visible in ‘language, literature, and rural subjects’, these films are touchstones in contemporary Taiwanese cinema, together representing ‘major changes in style, theme, and audience’ that reflected larger social and political transformations at the time of their release (Yeh and Davis 2005: 56).

The Sandwich Man is a foundational text in the history of New Taiwanese Cinema, which launched in 1982, and which ended four years later with the 1986 signing of the Taiwan Cinema Manifesto.

Diffrient argues that Hou’s cinema, shares with the mainland’s Fifth Generation, ‘

‘a penchant for long takes, long shots, composition-in-depth, self-reflexivity, sparse dialogue, subtle gestures, and a suppression of the shot- reverse-shot, utilizes a quasi-episodic, elliptical editing style that recalls Frantz Fanon’s emphasis on mobilizing the discontinuous, fragmentary and image-based history of the colonized to enunciate a postcolonial imaginary’.

Richard adds:

Note, we should clarify that there’s some confusion regarding the names on the titles. The ones given on screen were Hou Hsiao-hsien – “His Son’s Big Doll” (some sources refer to this story as “The Sandwich Man”), Tseng Shuan-hsiang – “Vick’s Hat” (I can see references to “Hsiao-ch’i’s Hat” in a couple of articles and also “Xiao qi’s Hat” and “Vicki’s Hat” – perhaps Vicki is an anglicisation of Xiao qi).  I suspect some of this comes from the English translation of the book. To add to the confusion the book of short stories is called “The Taste of Apples” and in that one the story is called “Xiaoqi’s Cap”

We will continue these discussions in further episodes.

The book is available in English from Columbia University Press

a couple of reviews Richard enjoyed from a screening at the UK Taiwan Film Festival online last year
All these reviews call the first segment “The Sandwich Man” so Richard  wonders if that is how it is named on screen in current English sub-titiled prints.
José did a trailer for the podcast which can be seen below:

We will continue to add links as we find them.

José Arroyo

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