Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge), first part in a new series of films produced by Musée d’Orsay, tells the story of a French family as seen through the eyes of a Chinese student. The film was shot in August and September 2006 on location in Paris. This is Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s first western film. It is based on the classic French short The Red Balloon directed by Albert Lamorisse. Flight of the Red Balloon is one of those movies where nothing much happens. It’s a simple, relatively peaceful film, notable in part because director Hou Hsao-Hsien is shooting outside Asia for the first time. Hou’s starting point–dictated by Paris’s Musee d’Orsay, which commissioned the film–is La Ballon Rouge, the 1956 Albert Lamorisse film about a little boy and his companion in the streets of Paris, a floating red balloon. Read More »
Based on an 1894 novel by Han Ziyun, and starring Hong Kong film and recording star Tony Leung, Hou’s first film set outside of Taiwan takes place in the elegant brothels of late nineteenth-century Shanghai, a hermetic world with its own highly ritualized codes of behavior. It traces the destinies of the beautiful “flower girls”, whose lives depended on their ability to win, and then hold, the affections of their wealthy callers. A mesmerizing and seductive tale of sexual intrigue. Read More »
Dust in the Wind is a remarkable film, and one which will, no doubt, reward multiple viewings. Like most of the films of Hou Hsiao Hsien, viewers will be divided into two, sharply opposed camps.
The main characters in the film are two high-school students. The first is Wan, who – seeing his village as a dead-end career-wise, decides to leave their home town to go to Taipei to find work, intending to complete his education via night-school. His girlfriend Huen also leaves for Taipei after graduation. The other personages are family members, employers, friends and co-workers. Read More »
Hou’s latest film continues in a similar vein Cafe Lumiereof hermetic environment and translucently slight narrative that have come to define his later, apolitical (and largely transitional) works (beginning with The Flowers of Shanghai). Opening with the reassuringly familiar sight of the Mount Fuji Shochiku logo that can be seen at the beginning of many of Yasujiro Ozu’s films as well as a train traversing a horizon demarcated by power lines at dusk, Café Lumière then sharply diverges from Ozu’s familiar camerawork and images of Japan in the film’s inherent asymmetry, aesthetically irregular compositions, awkward angles (during the parents’ visit in Yoko’s apartment, Hou seemingly attempts an Ozu-like low angle then, faced with a troublesome, truncated image of the stepmother standing in the foreground, inexplicably pans up to reveal her face before resuming the low angle), and opaque and unengaging characters (except for Yoko’s stepmother, played by Kimiko Yo). Read More »
The pop-star leads from Hou’s first feature, Cute Girl, are reunited in the director’s follow-up, a brisk work of bubble-gum romance that begins to experiment with the rules of the genre. This time, Taiwanese singing sensation Feng Fei-fei plays Hsing-hui, a trendy photographer visiting a seaside village in Penghu with her successful boss/fiancé. When she happens upon a flute-playing medic blinded in an ambulance crash (Kenny Bee), sparks fly, songs are sung, and she’s left with the tough decision of who to say “I do” to. Despite the eye-rolling premise, Hou infuses the film with enough formal ingenuity (long takes, telephoto lenses, on-location shooting) that a case can be made for its auteurial significance. Read More »
An assassin accepts a dangerous mission to kill a political leader in seventh-century China.
J. Hoberman wrote:
“The Assassin” is extraordinarily beautiful. The film’s editing and narrative construction are, however, no less remarkable. For all its exquisitely furnished interiors and fantastic landscapes, “The Assassin” is far too eccentric to ever seem picturesque. Nor does it unfold like a typical wuxia. Mayhem is abrupt, brief and fragmentary — predicated on suave jump-cuts and largely devoid of special effects. Read More »
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. Read More »