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Taipei Stories: Film Series

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In parallel to Aperture Asia & Pacific Film Festival's focus on Taiwanese cinema, Close-Up is pleased to present a programme of thirteen films, by three masters of Taiwanese New Cinema, set in and around Taipei throughout the 20th and 21st Century.

The Boys from Fengkuei
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1983, 101 min
Mandarin & Taiwanese with English subtitles

"Among Hou’s strongest early films, The Boys from Fengkuei offers a portrait of aimless youth as an emblem of eighties Taiwan in transition and moving rapidly towards an uncertain future. Hou’s avid cinephilia imparts the film with a citational over-ripeness: the restless group of boys in the small seaside town recalling Fellini’s I Vitelloni, while their travels to the big glittering city echo Rocco and His Brothers, the same film the boys rush to see in a Taipei art house. Yet the Italian cinema overstated throughout the film is in many ways a distraction from Hou’s clear embrace of the spontaneous male ruffianism of Hawks and Scorsese and the transcendental everyday of Ozu and Malick. For all of its metacinematic charms, Boys from Fengkuei remains a milestone for giving first expression to the elliptical episodic narrative so central to Hou’s mature cinema and pointing towards that evocative sense, redolent throughout his greatest films, of the present moment as perfumed by the past it is about to become, with friendship and happiness and small victories revealed to be fleeting moments always about to be lost." – Harvard Film Archive

That Day on the Beach
Edward Yang, 1983, 166 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"Yang’s first theatrical feature film is an intriguing blend of melodrama and social critique that occasionally recalls Fassbinder’s cool theatricality. The contrasting stories told by two reunited friends – a famous concert pianist and a housewife – crystallize different facets of a changing Taiwan. The emergence of the independent career woman in That Day On the Beach marks the widening gap between the embittered and generally conservative older generation that fled the communist mainland and the youth flush with the beginning of Taiwan’s economic renaissance. The film also marks the debut of celebrated and influential cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who would famously go on to work with Wong Kar-wai and Gus van Sant." – Harvard Film Archive

Taipei Story
Edward Yang, 1985, 110 min
Mandarin & Hokkien with English subtitles

"Edward Yang’s second feature is a mournful anatomy of a city caught between the past and the present. Made in collaboration with Yang’s fellow New Taiwan Cinema master Hou Hsiao-hsien, who co-wrote the screenplay and helped finance the project, Taipei Story chronicles the growing estrangement between a washed-up baseball player (Hou, in a rare on-screen performance) working in his family’s textile business and his girlfriend (pop star Tsai Chin), who clings to the upward mobility of her career in property development. As the couple’s dreams of marriage and emigration begin to unravel, Yang’s gaze illuminates the precariousness of domestic life and the desperation of Taiwan’s globalised modernity." – Harvard Film Archive

Dust in the Wind
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1986, 110 min
Mandarin & Taiwanese with English subtitles

"A beloved favorite among Hou’s early films, Dust in the Wind is an affecting and poignantly fatalistic story of first love which follows a young couple finishing high school and leaving their remote mining village in search of work and a new life in Taipei. The film’s hypnotic extended opening shot on a train passing through a mountain landscape makes clear the careful formal lyricism – an absolute control of light, shadow and movement – which marks the film as an important milestone in Hou’s oeuvre. At the same time, the train is one of several pointed meta-cinematic references throughout the film (the plein air village screening, the decrepit Taiwan movie house) which reveal Hou’s canny awareness of the role of the New Taiwan cinema in shaping a mythos about Taiwanese history and place. Ironically, Dust in the Wind‘s elegy to waning village life transformed the film’s stunning mountainside setting into a popular tourist attraction and nostalgic pilgrimage site which today attracts streams of visitors from Taipei and abroad." – Harvard Film Archive

The Terrorizers
Edward Yang, 1986, 109 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"As the title indicates, this is the one of Yang’s films in which the air of menace, usually lurking at the edges of the frame, takes center stage. The film traces the intersecting fates of three couples in contemporary Taipei, all of whom are caught up in a torrent of violence either emotional or physical, or both. Two of the couples include relatively wealthy artists – one a novelist, the other a photographer – but the other consists of two young criminals, one a violent prostitute, the other her pimp. Standing apart from the three couples, but ultimately connected to all of them, is a policeman who is not so much an enforcer of the law as a witness of its seemingly unavoidable collapse. The harshness of the film’s plot, its elliptical nature and its sudden violence have all earned the film comparisons to Bresson." – Harvard Film Archive

A City of Sadness
Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1989, 159 min, 35mm
Chinese with English subtitles

"Hou’s epic film focuses on the complex history of 20th-century Taiwan during the turbulent period in Taiwanese history between the fall of the Japanese Empire in 1945 and the establishment of martial law in 1949. Hou fashioned a national saga out of the events leading to the now infamous “February 28 Incident,” a massacre of thousands of Taiwanese civilians by Nationalist soldiers in 1947. Revolving around the fates of four brothers whose lives embody the major forces at work on the island, A City of Sadness unfolds a complex and engaging narrative contrasting the oldest brother, a bar owner eager to profit from the postwar economic boom and the youngest, a deaf-mute photographer with ties to the leftist resistance to the Kuomintang. Despite its broad canvas, the film remains intimately focused on daily life, with the major historical events taking place primarily offscreen. A City of Sadness remains one of Hou’s most formally inventive films, utilizing text onscreen, voiceover and a variety of languages. Made in the wake of the lifting of martial law on the island, A City of Sadness is both an important act of remembrance and a landmark of world cinema." – Harvard Film Archive

A Brighter Summer Day
Edward Yang, 1991, 237 min
Mandarin & Taiwanese with English subtitles

Among the most praised and sought-after titles in all contemporary film, A Brighter Summer Day is based on the true story of a crime that rocked Taiwan in the 1960s. A film of both sprawling scope and tender intimacy, this novelistic, patiently observed epic centers on the gradual, inexorable fall of a young teenager (Chen Chang, in his first role) from innocence to juvenile delinquency, and is set against a simmering backdrop of restless youth, rock and roll, and political turmoil.

Rebels of the Neon God
Tsai Ming-liang, 1993, 106 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"While working on a series of short films about juvenile delinquents, Tsai met the teenaged Lee Kang-sheng in a video arcade and was inspired by the young man’s naturalness in front of the camera to make a feature film centered around his struggle with Taiwan’s college entrance exam. A haunting portrait of loneliness and misdirected youth, Rebels of the Neon God revealed Tsai’s ability to discover the expressive potential of overlooked everyday spaces - back alleys, motels, video arcades. The emergence of Tsai’s minimal aesthetic is apparent at key moments throughout the film, especially during those captivating sequences where the camera discretely follows Lee from afar as he desperately watches another young man whose successful pursuit of love and schoolwork exerts a strange hold on Lee." – Harvard Film Archive

Vive l’Amour
Tsai Ming-liang, 1994, 118 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"Tsai found international acclaim in his second feature, Vive l’Amour, which traces the odd, accidental love triangle that loosely binds a realtor, her street vendor lover and the lonely young man secretly smitten with the street vendor. A crisp and often satiric snapshot of an anxious Taipei, the film’s moody portrayal of urban alienation and lovesick sexual games - and its brilliant use of contemporary architecture – continues to draw insightful comparisons to Antonioni. The empty apartment that serves as the uncanny center of Vive l’Amour defines the hauntingly underpopulated, makeshift spaces that will recur throughout Tsai’s cinema and serve as ambiguous stages, full of both melancholy and possibilities, where his characters comic, tragic and erotic struggles take on a strange and beautiful theatricality." – Harvard Film Archive

The River
Tsai Ming-liang, 1997, 115 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"After spontaneously agreeing to play a drowned corpse in a film, a young man (Lee Kang-sheng) develops chronic, inexplicable neck pain. Meanwhile, his mother embarks on an affair with a pornographer, his father spends free evenings pursuing chance sexual encounters at a local bathhouse, and the family’s shared apartment keeps suffering from mysterious plumbing issues… Tsai Ming-Liang’s third feature is at once overtly metaphorical and deeply committed to the ebb and flow of everyday life: a film about individuals in crisis that builds patiently to a devastating emotional climax." – Film Society of Lincoln Center

Yi Yi
Edward Yang, 2000, 173 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

The extraordinary, internationally embraced Yi Yi (A One and a Two...), follows a middle-class family in Taipei over the course of one year, beginning with a wedding and ending with a funeral. Whether chronicling middle-age father NJ’s tentative flirtations with an old flame or precocious young son Yang-Yang’s attempts at capturing reality with his beloved camera, the filmmaker deftly imbues every gorgeous frame with a compassionate clarity. Warm, sprawling, and dazzling, this intimate epic is one of the undisputed masterworks of the new century.

Three Times
Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2005, 130 min, 35mm
Mandarin & Taiwanese with English subtitles

"“If anything sums up both the Taiwanese Experience and Hou’s films, it is sudden, unexpected, and often irreversible changes,” writes film scholar James Udden, a characterization that might have provided the structural basis for Three Times, Hou’s tripartite narrative of missed connections across the ages. Chen Chang and Qi Shu play fated lovers weaving through a compendium of milieus familiar to Hou: a 1965 urban pool hall straight out of The Boys from Fengkuei, a 1911 Chinese brothel reminiscent of those in Flowers of Shanghai, and Taipei nightlife circa 2005, an echo of Millenium Mambo. Titling his chapters “A Time for Love,” “A Time for Freedom,” and “A Time for Youth,” Hou sets himself up for charges of schematism only to undercut any on-the-nose implications with his typical unassuming direction, submerging characters into larger sociopolitical networks to which they are inevitably bound for better or worse. Three Times is Hou’s most accessible, stylistically varied effort – the 1911 portion plays out as a silent film with intertitles – but its divided structure is not without a degree of rigor: temporal leaps occur without apparent warning and without narrative closure, an elliptical strategy that lends an inconclusive air of melancholy." – Harvard Film Archive

Stray Dogs
Tsai Ming-liang, 2013, 138 min
Mandarin with English subtitles

"In the [last feature] film fromTsai Ming-liang, a single father (Tsai mainstay Lee Kang-sheng) makes his meager living holding up an advertising placard on a traffic island in the middle of a busy highway. His children (Lu Yi-ching and Li Yi-cheng) 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 (Chen Shiang-chyi, also a Tsai regular) 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." – NYFF