Six Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien
Through May 13
"The 21st century belongs to Asia, and Hou is its historian, its prophet, and its poet laureate."
— Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Comment
From April 5 through May 13, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents “Six Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien,” a selection of rarely shown films by the acclaimed Taiwanese director who has been whom called “the world’s greatest working narrative filmmaker” (J. Hoberman, Village Voice). All six films are currently out of distribution in the United States, and all are being shown in 35mm prints.
Thematically, most of Hou’s work revolves around the dilemma of his generation--born in China but raised in rapidly evolving Taiwan by parents and grandparents whose vision was fixed on the past, on the now-lost land of their ancestors. He tells stories of footloose and alienated youth, of smalltime gangsters and bar girls, displaced farmers, jack-of-all-trades hustlers--all those who have little past and no future.
Hou was born in 1948 and spent his childhood in a provincial town in southern Taiwan, a locale that figures prominently in his films. He is reputed to have spent his youth on the fringes of the underworld, a milieu that he also frequently depicts. After completing his army service in 1969, he studied filmmaking at the National Taiwan Academy of the Arts.
In the early Eighties, along with director Edward Yang, Hou turned his back on the aesthetic of Taiwan’s commercial film industry and began making films that were extremely personal in both form and content. Key among the filmmakers whose work became known as the Taiwanese New Wave, Hou developed a form of storytelling that centers around the detail of daily life. His stories evolve out of long-held takes, and they invariably find their focus in scenes of the family at the dinner table or men gathered around the wok at a street stall.
All of Hou’s films are constructed of long and medium-distance shots; there are few if any close-ups. While this may sound unusual to the uninitiated, a too-radical departure from the storytelling methods we know, one need only see one of Hou’s films to understand how effectively he makes this work. His narratives are presented in the manner in which our eyes see. They take in the full story in its own time and place.
Discussing his methods in Toronto in 1989, Hou revealed that he first eschewed close-ups in his work because he knew that the non-professional actors he frequently employs did not have the skill to carry scenes at close range. What began as a strategy of necessity quickly became an aesthetic choice. Meaning in Hou’s work is conveyed through the entire fabric of life in all its nuances.
— Barbara Scharres
“Six Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien” is a selection from “Also like Life: The Films of Hsiao-hsien,” an international retrospective organized by Richard I. Suchenski (Director, Center for Moving Image Arts at Bard College), in collaboration with the Taipei Cultural Center, the Taiwan Film Institute, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The book “Hou Hsiao-hsien” (Vienna: Österreichisches Filmmuseum and New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) has been released in conjunction with this retrospective.
DUST IN THE WIND
(LIEN LIEN FUNG CHEN)
1987, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 109 min. With Hsin Shu-feng, Wang Chien-wen
“The perfect Hou film and the perfect New [Taiwanese] Cinema film" — James Udden, “No Man Is an Island: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien”
Hou’s tale of a dissolving first love is imbued with a melancholy that was new to his work with this film. Lacking the money to continue their education, teen-age sweethearts Wan and Huen travel to Taipei seeking jobs. He finds back-breaking work in a print shop, and she becomes a seamstress. They begin to live together in makeshift quarters behind a movie theater. Wan joins the army and Huen agrees to wait for him. Hou’s film is no rant on poverty or dead-end youth, but rather a deep and bittersweet narrative of the rhythms of life and the price of change. In Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
A TIME TO LIVE AND A TIME TO DIE
1985, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 137 min. With You An-shun, Tian Feng
“Hou’s first genuine masterpiece.”
— Phillip Lopate, The New York Times
Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, this film served notice that Hou had moved to a new level of mastery in his still-short directorial career. Semi-autobiographical, it charts the story of a family very much like Hou’s own: reluctant émigrés from China to Taiwan. The elders of the family find meager solace in unrealistic hopes, while their kids run wild, exhilarated and daunted by a new and unfamiliar world. What passed for nostalgia and poignancy in Hou’s previous work takes on a new edge here, as he looks at life and death in the family with a power and utter frankness that is without precedent. In Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
2001, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 119 min.
With Shu Qi, Tuan Chun-hao
"There's a delirious, tangy sexiness in MILLENNIUM MAMBO that the director has never so openly embraced."
— Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times
Hou puts mesmerizingly beautiful Hong Kong starlet Shu Qi at the center of this episodic story of a Taipei club-hopper torn between her lethargic relationship with a part-time DJ and her attraction to an older rough-hewn gangster. Compared by critics to Wong Kar-wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (with Mark Lee Ping-bin’s sensuous cinematography a link between the two films), MILLENNIUM MAMBO is a key film in the late-career broadening of Hou’s range into more contempo and global directions. In Mandarin and Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
GOOD MEN, GOOD WOMEN
1995, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 108 min. With Annie Shizuka Inoh, Lin Chung
Exploring a recurrent theme, Hou shifts between the past and present in his contemplation of the individual's place in history. Liang Ching, an actress preparing for a period-film role in which she plays an anti-Japanese guerrilla, is stalked by a man who has stolen her diary. As film rehearsals progress, Liang Ching’s thoughts on the role merge with the recollection of her own recent past as a bar girl and consort of a local gangster. The sequences in the Forties, richly but starkly filmed in black-and-white, contrast sharply with the colorful crassness of those in the present. In Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, and Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
1993, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 142 min. With Li Tien-lu, Lin Chiang
- Sat, May 2nd 3:00pm
“Everything seems to come together in THE PUPPETMASTER... Mr. Hou is as marvelous (and sometimes as laconic) a storyteller as his admired subject is.” - Vincent Canby, The New York Times
Hou transforms the life of the aged puppet master Li Tien-lu into both a moving drama and a unique record of life in Taiwan from 1909, the year of Li's birth, to 1945, the end of World War II. Li finds escape from a harsh childhood in apprenticeship to a traveling puppet theater. The adult Li, something of a rake, temporarily becomes a vaudeville performer when the Japanese ban his puppet theater, but he is later forced to perform puppet propaganda for them. Li himself occasionally steps into the fiction as narrator of the drama and the dream. In Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)
FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI
(HAI SHANG HUA)
1998, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 113 min. With Tony Leung, Michiko Hada
A beautiful, tantalizingly oblique, and thoroughly hypnotic film - a work so sensual that one can nearly smell the perfume wafting from the screen.”
— Jeffrey M. Anderson, City Pages
n this sumptuous departure from his earlier work, Hou abandons the anxieties and milieu of his own generation to delve into the secret world of nineteenth-century “flower houses” - Shanghai brothels that catered to the scions of good families. Han Ziyun’s novel of the same title, published in 1894, forms the basis for the segmented story that unfolds the microcosm of the “flower girls” and their wealthy suitors who sought romantic respite from arranged marriages. Companionship, gambling, opium, and gossip all take precedence over sex in this doll-house life. In Shanghainese and Cantonese with English subtitles. 35mm. (BS)