Two old friends reunite after 13 years apart. Tan Weiqing (Terry Hu) was in love with the brother of Jia LI (Sylvia Chan) but the couple were forced to separate after he was forced into an arranged marriage with someone else. This ruined his life. Jia Li ran away to marry for love but ended up just as unhappy as her brother and her friend. Tan Weiqing lost herself in her work and became a famous concert pianist; the other started a successful business, but only after her husband disappeared, one day, at the beach. Did he die? Did he ran off to Japan after scamming millions from his work?.Could someone do that to someone they loved? Will Jia Li ever know? Does it matter? A poetic exegis on love, loss and happiness with a focus on women’s perspectives and experiences; a melodrama in art cinema mode, with gorgeous images beautifully shot by Christopher Doyle. Sylvia Chang is a luminous Jia LI, radiating strength, purpose, sadness and chic. Hou Hsiao-hsien appears as part of a gang of boisterous Wall Street types. The discussion may be listened to below:
A central film in the history of New Taiwanese Cinema. A portmanteu film, like The Sandwich Man, composed of films by four different directors :Dinosaur/ Little Dragon Head, d: Tao Te Chen; Expectations/ Desires, d: Edward Yang; Leapfrog, d: Ko I-chen; Say Your Name/ Show Your ID, d: Yi Chang. The films are structured in chronological order, each film set in a different decade from the 50s to the 80s.
In the podcast we discuss the figure of the Child in Taiwanese cinema, which seems to be a recurring pattern.
We’re thrilled by the extraordinary depiction of the female gaze in Edward Yang’s episode and the beautiful and complex way it’s visually conveyed. What Yang can do with a pan is quite extraordinary. You can get a flavour of this from the little trailer I made below:
We talk about how this new wave comes across as a ‘boy’s club’ and discuss the context of the last episode in relation to Sylvia Chang. We also wonder whether Sylvia Chang might be overlooked more by Western critics than Taiwanese ones and the effect that that might have on our perception and accounts of this cinema in the West and whether this is an effect of overvaluing auteurism at the expense of social and industrial contexts.
We note the use of music and discuss how those choices might have affected the international circulation of this film. We talk about the many common elements these short films have with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s early commercial work. After evaluating each of the works in some detail, we conclude by highly recommending the film.
A discussion of OUR TIME, OUR STORY, a more traditional documentary than FLOWERS OF TAIPEI but all the better for it. A film that offers various kinds of contexts (production, distribution, exhibition, reception), historicises well, finds extraordinary archival footage, interviews many of the leading people involved in Taiwan’s New Cinema and really enhances our knowledge of the period, the movement, and the films themselves. The film boasts many clips often in a lamentably degraded state but one that really make us appreciate the value of the new restorations . The video may be listened to below:
After all our contextualising, we return to Hou Hsiao-hsien films proper, focussing on the masterpiece that is a City of Sadness. We are able now to discuss not only what the film feels like to watch or what it is about in formal terms but can now add various kinds of contexts: historical, political, social, aesthetic, industrial, and even how our own personal histories find echo in the film and how those echoes add a layer of insight and understanding into the film and perhaps also into ourselves. It makes for a rich but still — as is proper with all great works — initial and tentative discussion.
We continue with our discussion of Edward Yang films in relation to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s work. We discuss the film in relation to Postmodernism, Existentialism, contingency, nausea, chance. We note that Fredric Jameson wrote on Sartre, Postmodernism, and this film. We discuss, Yang’s characteristic visuals, his distinctive way of filming, narrating, and style of characterisation; a kind of mosaic sights, sounds, scenes which the viewer is left to piece together. We continue to be entranced.
Richard and I discuss our admiration of Edward Yang’s Taipei Story. It’s connection to Hou Hsiao-hsien, who stars and co-wrote the screenplay. It’s a mosaic of a film in which a relationship between two people, childhood sweethearts who care for each other, falls apart and as it does so we get to see stories of a people and of a city in transition in a country situated within two imperial cultures, Japanese and American, with mainland China always hovering on the background. It’s a beautiful film, with really striking, original and beautiful imagery: Yang’s flat face-on camera, uses of screens, reflections, the city always ever present in what is ultimately a chamber piece focussing on a couple and their immediate relations, the couple caught between a longed for past (on his part) and an uncertain future in hers. A truly great film.
Reflected on screens. Also see other images below:
clip of Pepsi imagery:
Yang & Hockney
Richard also recommends this article:
This is a great article although it ignores the Hokkien-language films! This artistic conservatism was partly the result of the Kuomintang government’s thirty-eight-year imposition of martial law, and while the New Taiwan Cinema did not become explicitly political until the late eighties, when the law was lifted, Yang’s and Hou’s early films were among the first to depict Taiwan as a place with a burgeoning sense of its own social and historical integrity, independent of a mainland China that had long considered it a mere repository.
A discussion of FLOWERS OF TAIPEI, a documentary on Taiwan New Cinema. José saw it twice; the first time finding it interesting but almost instantly forgettable; the second time it incensed him, seeming an attempt to get a production to pay for a director’s networking opportunities rather than a work that actually illuminates what Taiwan New Cinema might be; its history, contexts, development. We do get to see it’s impact on major names from East Asia. Richard is as always the voice of reason. The podcast can be listened to below:
We delve further into the cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien. We discuss the narrative structure, how various plots unfold and deepen what seems initially a light story where not much seems to happen. We discuss the continuing interest in differences between the country and the city, the use of trains, how the kids develop an understanding of the adult world by what happens on the margins of the story, and how the story itself is told in long takes, in the middle plane of the frame, with elegant compositions that reframe our view through character placement and movement. We discuss the context of production, the connection with Hong Kong, the limitations of government policy, how little film filmmakers were allowed to use, and how this affected the films’ aesthetic. We also discuss the improvisational style of acting and the performances Hou manages to extract from the children, who are wonderful. We talk of how he uses corridors and stairs to create depth, how light and oblique angles create the feeling of a child hearing things they might not be understanding. We also discuss Hou’s use of empty space (which is what most likely lead to comparisons with Ozu). We end with a discussion of the music, very different this time, and composed by Edward Yang, who also plays the father in the film, appearing briefly at the beginning and the end….oh and the continuing use of toilet gags.
On sound recording …. “A City of Sadness was the first feature-length movie made in Taiwan to use sound recorded throughout filming instead of relying on the dubbing of actors’ voices and the addition of sound effects in postproduction. ” https://taiwantoday.tw/news.php?unit=20,29,35,45&post=25014
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
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.
The trailer José made for the podcast may be seen here: