THE BOYS FROM FENGKUEI – 7 P.M., Saturday, September 8th at the AFS Cinema (buy tickets)
Taiwan, 1983, 100 minutes, DCP, in Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles
New 4K restoration courtesy of CINEMATEK – Royal Film Archive of Belgium
A group of rebellious teenage boys leave their remote island village for the bustling port city of Kaohsiung, where they contend with scam artists, unrequited love, and the rigors of life on their own. Hou Hsiao-hsien’s breakthrough feature set a number of milestones, including his first collaboration with renowned writer Chu Tien-wen, whose screenplay drew inspiration from Hou’s own adolescence. Developing Hou’s careful, naturalistic approach against the backdrop of Taiwan’s “economic miracle,” The Boys from Fengkuei is a seminal work of Taiwanese cinema that confirmed the arrival of a major new talent.
Filmmaking used to be simple; I never cared about form. But after talking to those in the Taiwanese New Cinema who had come back from overseas, I couldn’t film like that anymore and started running into difficulties. The Boys from Fengkuei contains a lot of my own experience and I wanted to tell a story about growing up, but I couldn’t say what the point of view was. Then Chu Tien-wen showed me the autobiography of Shen Congwen… I felt he had a very interesting perspective—even though he was depicting his own experiences and his own growth, he was watching from a calm, long-distance perspective… I used a lot of long shots because of that book.
THE TIME TO LIVE AND THE TIME TO DIE – 6:30 P.M., Tuesday, September 11th at the AFS Cinema (buy tickets)
Taiwan, 1985, 136 minutes, 35mm, in Mandarin, Hakka, and Taiwanese with English subtitles
35mm collection print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive
Shot in the rural Taiwanese environs of his youth, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s most directly autobiographical film recounts his experiences as the son of exiles from mainland China. Growing up in the shadow of an ailing, distant father and the even more distant homeland he last saw as an infant, “Ah-ha” (Hou’s childhood nickname) matures into a disgruntled adolescent, confronted by the impending responsibilities of adulthood. Hou cemented his reputation with his early cycle of coming-of-age dramas, and The Time to Live and the Time to Die is often ranked as the best of the group.
The theme of The Time to Live and the Time to Die was very clear in my mind. The absurdity of the grandmother is actually realistic—it’s absurdity to the point of realism. I feel such absurd elements are reality. So many mainlanders had emigrated to Taiwan, and that entire generation would pass away still ‘retaking the mainland’…
A script is a blueprint. I always consider the actors and the situation; I’m constantly revising and rearranging based on the shooting process, the conditions of the cast, and the actual environment… The Time to Live and the Time to Die was the story of my childhood. I wanted to forget the questions of form and content. I put them out of my mind and filmed directly.
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