Ming-liang Tsai – Qing shao nian nuo zha AKA Rebels of the Neon God (1992)

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On a raining evening at a nondescript telephone booth in Taipei, two petty criminals, Ah-tze (Chen Chao-jung) and his friend Ah-ping (Jen Chang-bin) drill through the lock of the public telephone and steal the contents of the collection box. In another part of the city, an unmotivated and distracted student named Hsiao-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) encounters a cockroach in his room, stabs the insect with the point of his compass, and tosses its dead carcass into the turbulent wind, only to find the seemingly tenacious vermin resurface on the other side of his window. In a quintessential, understatedly amusing scene, Hsiao-Kang unsuccessfully attempts to swat the insect, crashes his palm through the window, and calmly walks into the bathroom to dress his injured hand, amidst the perplexed and inquisitive gaze of his father (Tien Miao) and mother (Lu Hsiao-Ling). Continue reading

Edward Yang – Yi yi (2000)

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Master Taiwanese director Edward Yang spins this intricate and complex yarn about life’s everyday crises. The film focuses on N.J. Jian (Wu Nien-jen), a noted writer/director in his own right), his wife Min-min (Elaine Jin) and their two children, teenager Ting-ting (Kelly Lee) and young Yang-yang (Jonathan Chang). Their middle-class existence seems stable and secure until a series of incidents throws all of their lives out of kilter. The misfortunes start at the wedding of Min-min’s ne’er-do-well brother A-Di (Chen Xisheng), when his jilted ex-girlfriend Yun-Yun (Zeng Xinyi) bursts into the proceedings and lambastes the bride. Upset by the ruckus and feeling unwell, Min-min’s mother goes home early only to suffer a stroke and slip into a coma. After the wedding, N.J. runs into his first love, Sherry (Ke Suyun), who is married to a rich American. This chance encounter shakes N.J. to his very foundations, forcing him to reevaluate his life. At the same time, N.J.’s computer company deliberates on whether or not to collaborate with a renowned Japanese games designer, Ota (Issey Ogata), sending N.J. to Japan to negotiate a contract. Confronted by her mother’s coma, Min-min also takes stock of her life and finds it lacking. On the brink of a nervous breakdown, she suddenly joins a religious retreat. Continue reading

Edward Yang – Gu ling jie shao nian sha ren shi jian AKA A Brighter Summer Day (1991)

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It’s only natural that Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day begins with a shot of a barely-lit light bulb. On the set of a movie, a director reprimands an actress for harping on the color of her dress. “This is a black and white film,” he says, one of many references to the symbolic darkness that overshadows the milieu of the film. A Brighter Summer Day is itself in color, but it may as well be monochrome. Much of the film’s action takes place at night or inside dimly lit interiors, and it’s not unusual for the characters to be confronted by light and its almost political implications. Some of the best images in the film (young boys staring at a rehearsal from a theater’s rooftop; a basketball bouncing out of a darkened alleyway) pit light against dark—a fascinating dialectic meant to symbolize a distinctly Taiwanese struggle between past and present. From weapons to watches, objects similarly speak to the present. Like the light, these objects are constant reminders that the past can’t be ignored and must be used to negotiate the present. Continue reading

Chen Chieh-Jen – Lingchi – Echoes of a Historical Photograph (2002)

The title Lingchi refers to a photograph taken by an unidentified western anthropologist according to some, and by a French soldier at the beginning of the 20th century, according to others by others. It shows the execution of a condemned man by Lingchi, a slow torture involving more than a thousand cuts made on the body of the condemned person before death. If he died earlier the executioner was himself put to death. This punishment was practiced in China for thousands of years and was not finally abolished until 1905. A large crowd would gather for the execution, not only to witness the extraordinary spectacle but also to collect blood and strips of flesh from the body, to be used for medical purposes. The photo immediately started to be circulated, especially amongst westerners passing through China and in particular in a set of postcards Les supplices chinois. It was later published in France in Louis Carpeaux’s Pekin qui s’en va in 1913, and then by Georges Dumas in his Traité ! de psychologie in 1923. It was, however, Georges Bataille, who came into possession of a copy in 1925 and for whom, according to his own statement, it was of decisive importance in his life, who introduced it with greater authority into the imagery of western culture when he used it at the conclusion of his last study of eroticism, Les larmes d’eros, published a year before his death in 1961, to demonstrate the identical nature of contraries and in particular of religious ecstasy and extreme horror. Continue reading

Hsiao-hsien Hou – Xi meng ren sheng aka The Puppetmaster (1993)

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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

Hsiao-Hsien Hou – Nie yin niang AKA The Assassin (2015)

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The film is set during the mighty Tang Dynasty-period in Chinese history. Nie Yinniang returns to family after several years in exile. The mission of her order is to eliminate the tyrany of the Governors who avoid the authority of the Emperor. Now she will have to choose between sacrificing the man she loves, or break definitively with the “order of the Assassins”.

The Assassin (Chinese: 刺客聶隱娘) is a 2015 martial arts film directed by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. A Taiwan-China-Hong Kong co-production, it was an official selection in the main competition section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes, Hou won the award for Best Director.It was released in China on 27 August 2015. It was selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. Continue reading

Ming-liang Tsai – Xiao Kang (2015)

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Synopsis:
This year, the Viennale has once again succeeded in garnering a great director of world cinema for the creation of the traditional festival trailer. At the Viennale’s invitation, the Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang, known through works such as REBELS OF THE NEON GOD, THE RIVER, THE HOLE and WAYWARD CLOUD, created a short, approximately two-minute homage to Lee Kang-sheng – the actor who has appeared in almost all of Tsai Ming-liang’s films over the past thirty years and significantly influenced his entire oeuvre.

The film XIAO KANG shows Lee Kang-sheng roaming through a bamboo forest in a succession of simultaneously mysterious and unintentional movements. These again are alienated by the projection of silent black-and-white footage, accompanied only by the sound of a projector. It’s a fine, minimalist work, oscillating between dream and memory and kept entirely in the style of Tsai Ming-liang’s great films. Continue reading