Tag Archives: autobiographical films

Hou Hsiao-hsien 7: A Time To Live and a Time to Die


We continue our discussion of the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, this time with a focus on The Time to Live and The Time to Die, the second in his cycle of autobiographical films after The Boys from Fenkuei.

In the podcast below, we discuss what is depth in this film and talk about Hou’s consideration of ‘traces ‘in the surfaces of his films, how depth is often inextricable from surface in his work. We note the structuring of this film, a bildungsroman, around a series of deaths. We talk of how often the key narrative points are obscured, and make sense only in the connections the viewers can make subsequently; how Hou often films in fixed positions, so we return to the same scene but across time, and we think about how this might affect all those spaces without faces, the anticipatory space, and the remains after characters have left the scene. We also explore the dual perspective in the film, the filmmaker’s and the protagonist’s, often intersecting, rarely interchangeable. We mention how Hou narrates the beginning of the film and how the drama is filmed in the real places and spaces he grew up in, and the effect of dramatising fictionally, on our speculation of the effects of spaces across time in this narrative….and much more. The podcast 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


José did a supercut of places without faces in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Time to Live and a Time to Die‘(with added atmosphere by Duke Ellington) that is referred to in the podcast and can be seen below:


The clip of the conversation between mother and daughter referred to in the podcast can be seen here:


José also did a trailer for the film, which may be found here:


Richard has provided the following links:

A fascinating review raising many of the same points we do, and many others:

The source of the “17 fixed camera positions” quote – http://thecinemaarchives.com/2019/07/31/a-time-to-live-and-a-time-to-die-1985-hsiao-hsien-hou/

and he adds an extended interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien and Chu T’ien-wen. Time to Live is not mentioned but they talk about how he became a filmmaker and also the birth of the New Taiwanese Cinema:

A PDF of the Hou Interview:


-Another interesting article, with a focus on the shooting style http://www.reverseshot.org/symposiums/entry/601/time_live_and_time_die

-A good overview of the autobiographical and historical context, and the source of the quote about the ending (“The making of the movie is the happy ending the film itself so crushingly lacks, if a happy ending is even possible.”


The Time to Live and The Time to Die  was one of Derek Malcolm’s 100 greatest films in a series he did in 2000. He talks about how comparatively little known Hou was in the UK at that point, and also was the initial source for the discussion on the title https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2000/aug/03/artsfeatures1


and here’s the Air France commercial Richard mentions https://vimeo.com/24194114

More Reviews (from Wiki):

  1.  “Review: ‘Tongnian WangshiVariety. December 31, 1984. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  2. ^ Malcolm, Derek. “Hou Hsiao-hsien: The Time to Live and the Time to Die”The Guardian. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2013). “A Time to Live and a Time to Die”Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  4. ^ Andrew, Geoff. “The Time to Live and the Time to Die”Time Out London. Retrieved February 23, 2015.

— The beginnings of Josés Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:


Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times,  London: 07 June 2005: 13.

Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48

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,

Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.

Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19


Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78

Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.

Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.

Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14

Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653

Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98

Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’,  Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.

Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.

Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3

Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.

Yip, June, \the Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)


Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.


‘François, show me the choo-choo!’


Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 15.10.26.png

A lovely moment from Claude Jutra’s À tout prendre (Canada, 1963)Johanne and Claude are in love and now a couple. He introduces her to his friends, which include François Truffaut. Johanne asks François to show her how to blow cigarette smoke out,  like in the choo-choo train scene in his Jules et Jim (France, 1962), which must still have been in release when this was filmed. The dialogue in English goes something like this:

Claude: ‘It’s odd but since I’ve fallen in love with you going out pleases me more even though there’s nothing to see.’

Johanne: ‘But there’s more to show’

Claude: ‘What?’

Johanne: ‘Me!’

Claude: ‘You!’

Johanne: ‘What?’

Johanne: ‘I find your friends wonderful’.

Claude: ‘No need to tell me I can see’.

Johanne: ‘They find me beautiful. They have such great taste that they all deserve a little hug’.

Claude: ‘There’s no need for that. Thank you very much’.

Johanne:Don’t be silly I adore you.

Johanne: ‘François? Show me the trick with the train smoke, you know? Like in your film?’

Truffaut: Oh it’s easy’.

Truffaut: ‘blow!’


Truffaut: ‘Very good’