A CITY OF SADNESS – 7 P.M., Saturday, September 29th at the AFS Cinema (buy tickets)
Opening reception at 6 P.M.—panel discussion after the screening
Taiwan, 1989, 159 minutes, 35mm, in Taiwanese, Mandarin, Japanese, Shanghainese, and Cantonese with English subtitles
Hou Hsiao-hsien closed out the ’80s with one of his most acclaimed works, toplined by future superstar Tony Leung Chiu-wai (Chungking Express). Still undistributed in the U.S., Hou’s masterpiece was a sensation in Taiwan for its frank depiction of the post-World War II era, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government ended fifty years of Japanese rule and placed the island under a brutal martial-law regime. But for all its ambition, the film remains touchingly intimate, using the story of a single family to explore history through means both formally and narratively audacious. The first Taiwanese movie to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, A City of Sadness is an unparalleled landmark of Taiwanese and world cinema.
This screening will be followed by a discussion with Dr. Peggy Chiao, one of Taiwan’s preeminent film scholars and producers, and UT Professor of History Dr. Madeline Hsu. The discussion will be moderated by Austin-based filmmaker Yen Tan, director of this year’s SXSW hit 1985.
At the beginning of the Taiwanese New Cinema, most people filmed the backdrop of their own coming of age and their experiences of Taiwan, ten years after novels [explored these themes]. The 228 Incident discussed in A City of Sadness had always been taboo in Taiwan and remained so even ten years later in 1989. But with the death of Chiang Ching-kuo and the lifting of martial law, the times had changed and a space had opened to use cinema to deal with this subject…
First I read a book by a reporter called The Truth of the 228 Incident. Except for that, there were basically no books [on the subject]. We gathered material from newspapers of the time and went to interview some people, but most of them weren’t very talkative… Everybody knew about the 228 Incident. Nobody would say anything, at least in public, but behind closed doors everyone was talking about it, especially in the Tangwai movement… The 228 Incident was already known, so I was more interested in filming a time of transition, and the changes in a family during a change in regime. This was the main thing I wanted to capture…
There’s been too much political intervention. We should go back to history itself for a comprehensive reflection, but politicians like to use this tragedy as an ATM, making a withdrawal from it whenever they want. It’s awful. So no matter what point of view I took with the film, people would still criticize it. I was filming events that were still taboo, I had a point of view, and no matter what, I was filming from the point of view of people and a family… Of course it’s limited by the filmmaker’s vision and attitude. I can only present a part of the atmosphere of the time.
Hou Hsiao-hsien interview extracts from Michael Berry,《煮海時光：侯孝賢的光影記憶》[Boiling the Sea: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Memories of Shadows and Light], Taipei: INK, 2014