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Taiwan

Hsiao-Hsien Hou – Feng er ti ta cai AKA Play While you Play AKA Cheerful Wind (1981)

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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 »

Ming-liang Tsai – Ni de lian AKA Your Face (2018)

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Radically rethinking the tired talking-heads template, Tsai Ming-liang’s latest digital experiment turns the human face into a subject of dramatic intrigue. Comprised of a series of portrait shots of mostly anonymous individuals (Tsai devotees will no doubt recognize his long-time muse, Lee Kang-sheng), the film shrewdly deemphasizes language while reducing context to a bare minimum. In their place, the beauty and imperfections of each face take center stage. Accompanied by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack of dynamically modulating drone frequencies, Tsai’s subjects variously speak, stare, and, at one point, sleep as the camera quietly registers the weight of personal history and accumulated experience writ beautifully across every last pore and crevasse.
—NYFF Read More »

Edward Yang – Kong bu fen zi aka The Terrorizers (1986)

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Quote:
It’s been a couple of decades since it was released, and more than 10 years since I saw it at the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s landmark retrospective of Taiwanese cinema, but Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers has an urgent pull that makes me eagerly anticipate seeing it again. This 1986 film took the form of paranoid, pessimistic modernist thriller, with unreliable narration and uncertain relationships between characters and causality of events. Three seemingly unrelated groups of people become more tightly entwined as the film links them together in surprising—and sinister—ways. It will be interesting to see if this narrative tactic, which has been heavily copied from Tarantino onward, seems as fresh now as it did then. Yang, who was one of a trio of great Taiwanese filmmakers that constituted a “new wave” in the 1980s and ’90s, had his real breakout with his next film, A Brighter Summer Day (1991), but his biggest international success was with Yi Yi in 2000. Unfortunately, that would be his last film; he died in 2007 at the age 59. Read More »

Fred Tan – Li gui chan shen AKA Split Of The Spirit (1987)

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The ghost of a murdered woman possesses a dancer’s body in order to exact vengeance on her killer.

Light Industry wrote:
A rarity unearthed from Harvard’s vaults, Fred Tan’s Split of the Spirit is a macabre tale of supernatural possession, necromantic battles, and the vengeful phantom of a woman scorned. In Tan’s stylish neo-noir thriller, a renowned female choreographer becomes overtaken by the specter of a murdered woman, who forces her to enact revenge upon the men who have wronged her. After a string of gruesome slayings, the film culminates in a searing conflagration, an allegorical avant-garde dance finale, and ultimately an Orphic journey to the afterworld and back. Tan worked as an assistant director to King Hu and made only three features before his death at age thirty-five; placing the forces of ancient sorcery in contemporary Taiwan and Hong Kong, he deploys an ominous synth soundtrack and an expressive, haunting mise-en-scène to bring primeval frights into the modern world. Read More »

Hsin-yao Huang – The Great Buddha + (2017)

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Quote:
Pickle is a night security guard at a bronze statue factory. His colleague, Belly Bottom, works as a recycling collector during the day, and Pickle’s biggest pleasure in life is flicking through the porn magazines Belly Bottom collects in the small hours in the security room. Having late night snacks and watching television are an integral part of their dull lives. One day when the television is broken, their lives are changed forever. The story involves gods, the middle-aged men’s sexual desire and the conversation between ghosts and humans. Maybe the audience will find it preposterous, but isn’t life itself a farce? Read More »

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

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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 »

Hsiao-hsien Hou – Flowers of Shanghai AKA Hai shang hua (1998)

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SYNOPSIS
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. Read More »