A discussion of Peony Birds, part of a strand of films by women directors or films focussing on women that is a most welcome additions to the Taiwan Film Festival in Edinburgh. It is also a slight historical corrective to what may be seen as the ‘all-boys’ account of New Taiwanese Cinema from the 1980s and 1990s. In the podcast we discuss, how Peony Birds an inter-generational film focussing on mother-daughter relationships that deal with themes of love, money, class as well as differing perspectives on similar actions. Richard and José are divided on the film itself, with Richard perhaps more persuasive on the film’s virtues.
The Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh 2021 runs from 25-31st October. It has live screenings in theatres but it also has a digital component which is free and accessible to all. We interview curator Kuan-ping Liu to discuss the highlights of this year’s programme: Archival Films, 8mm home movies, characteristic examples of New Taiwanese Cinema, classic Hokkien-language cinema from the 1960s and a strand of films directed by women.
We discuss this absorbing and extremely likeable film in the context of New Taiwanese Cinema. Chen Kunhou was then Hou’s regular cinematographer. This feels , to an extent, like a transition between the style of the earlier Hou films and the later ones. Hou Hsiao-hsien collaborated on the screenplay and we compare this to Hou’s earlier films (and find it lacking). There’s a sense that that this is a first try for ideas that were better developed in Boys from Fengkuei & Time to Live and a Time to Die.
There are spoilers in the podcast. The film is a maternal melodrama, where the mother’s point of view is sidelined in favour of the son’s, the husband’s, the society, a childhood schoolmate of the son. We find fault with the screenplay, the structure and the visual story-telling. What in Hou feel like ellipses that afford depth, here come across as unbelievable plot holes or plot twists. We are nonetheless very charmed by it and highly recommend.
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.