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

Edward Yang – Mahjong aka Couples (1996)

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Review:
Mahjong (1996) is in many ways Yang’s greatest Satire, but has, at the same time, the beating pulse of a real dramatic story. In plays on the perception of Taiwan by foreign entities, urban locales, love, father/son relationships, and of course, themes of business & greed that Yang most vehemently loathes. The story is told through a variety of different viewpoints, but we are centered on a small gang of friends/hustlers, apparently led by Red Fish (Tang Congsheng), and consisting of Luen-Luen (Ke Yulun), a gentle-hearted translator, Hong Kong (Chen Chang of Crouching Tiger fame), a ladies man who is able to charm his way into any woman’s pants, and Little Buddha (the same actor who played “Cat” in Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day), a fake Feng-Shui expert who is used in the gang’s various scams. A French woman named Marthe (Virginie Ledoyen) – Yang plays very craftily on the similarity of the name ‘Marthe’ with ‘Matra’, the defunct subway system in Taiwan that is milking the city of its funds – comes to urban Taipei looking for her “lover”, a British man named Marcus. The plot eventually shows us Marthe’s eventual relationship with Red Fish’s gang (and Luen-Luen), but also reveals a variety of interesting narrative twists and turns concerning Red Fish and Hong Kong. Continue reading

Edward Yang – Du li shi dai AKA A Confucian Confusion (1994)

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Nominated for the Golden Palm in Cannes 1994.

Quote:
I’ve just seen a marvelous film. Edward Yang’s little-seen and under-distributed A Confucian Confusion is that screwball comedy I long to see that for once is smart, engaging and jabs you where it hurts and tickles most.

As suggested by the title, it deals with the trials and tribulations of a motley of urbanites living in modern Taipei and their escalating moral decadence (or not?). Among them is the young and lovely Chen Shiang-Chyi.

The dialogue is just so fun to listen to. The scenes are so expertly staged. The humor so spot-on.

Over-the-top funny yet never losing its grip on pressing contemporary issues. Confusion is indeed an artful blend of artistry and entertainment. For an Edward yang film, this is in fact a rare sight. Continue reading

Ming-liang Tsai – Jiao You AKA Stray Dogs [+Extra] (2013)

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Synopsis:
A single father makes his meager living holding up an advertising placard on a traffic island in the middle of a busy highway. His children wait out their days in supermarkets before they eat with their father and go to sleep in an abandoned building. As the father starts to come apart, a woman in the supermarket takes the children under her wing. There are real stray dogs to be fed in Tsai’s everyday apocalypse, but the title also refers to its principal characters, living the cruelest of existences on the ragged edges of the modern world.

Stray Dogs is many things at once: minimal in its narrative content and syntax, as visually powerful as it is emotionally overwhelming, and bracingly pure in both its anger and its compassion. One of the finest works of an extraordinary artist. Continue reading