Shanghai, the 1880s, four elegant brothels (flower houses): each has an auntie (the madam), a courtesan in her prime, older servants, and maturing girls in training. The men gather around tables of food, playing drinking games. An opium pipe is at hand. The women live within dark-paneled walls. The atmosphere is stifling, as if Chekov was in China. The melancholy Wang is Crimson’s patron; will he leave her for the younger Jasmin? Emerald schemes to buy her freedom, aided by Luo, a patron. Pearl, an aging flower, schools the willful Jade, who thinks she has a marriage agreement with young master Zhu. Is she dreaming? Women fade, or connive, or despair. Continue reading
A City Of Sadness opens with a credit sequence-shot of total darkness as the solemn voice of Emperor Hirohito is heard over a radio broadcast announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. The setting is then faintly illuminated by the warm glow of candles to reveal an anxious Taiwanese household that is preparing for the imminent birth of a child in the midst of a power failure. As the electricity is restored, the audible agony of the expectant mother gives way to the sound of a crying infant. The apparent metaphor is then reinforced in the subsequent intertitles that reveal that the concubine of Lin Wen-heung (Chen Sown-yung) had given birth to a son whom they name Kang-ming, meaning ‘light.’ However, as the film chronicles the lives of the Lin family during the turbulent four years between the Japanese withdrawal from Taiwan after 51 years of occupation in 1945, to the secession of Taiwan from mainland China in 1949, the hopeful and optimistic tone of the film’s introductory sequence seemingly proves untenable. Continue reading
The eldest daughter of a broken and troubled family works to keep the family together and look after her younger siblings, who are slipping into a life of crime. Continue reading
Three stories about a man and a woman, all three using the same actors. Three years: 1966, 1911, 2005. Three varieties of love: unfulfilled, mercenary, meaningless. Continue reading
A young boy and his sister spend a summer at their grandparents’ house in the country while their mother recuperates from an illness. They while away the hours climbing trees, swimming in a stream, searching for missing cattle, and coming to uneasy grips with the enigmatic and sometimes threatening realities of adult life. Continue reading
In the first half of this century, young Li Tienlu joines a travelling puppet theatre and subsequently makes a career as one of Taiwan’s leading puppeteers. During World War II the Japanese rulers of Taiwan use the traditional Chinese puppet theatre for their war propaganda. Only after the war street theatres start playing agaiN.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s masterpiece about the childhood and early adulthood of octogenerian Taiwanese puppet master and actor Li Tien-lu. This is the second part of a trilogy about Taiwanese life in the 20th century, covering all but the first few years of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Hou’s preference for filming entire scenes in long takes from fixed camera angles and for eschewing close-ups has never been as masterfully employed and modulated as it is here–some of the landscape shots are breathtaking. The film alternates between re-created scenes from Li’s life, Li speaking directly to the camera about his past, and extracts from his puppet and stage performances, creating a layered density in the narrative that does full justice to the complexity and poetry of Hou’s investigation. Continue reading