Museum of the Moving Image to Host Hou Hsiao-hsien Retrospective, 9/12-10/13
Hou Hsiao-hsien, the leading figure of the Taiwanese New Cinema movement, is one of the most important and influential filmmakers to emerge over the past three decades. His sensuous, richly textured work, marked by elegantly staged long takes and an elliptical approach to storytelling, can be seen in such widely acclaimed films as Flowers of Shanghai, A City of Sadness, Dust in the Wind, and Flight of the Red Balloon. His modernist formalism was complemented by a humanist touch expressed most strongly in films that addressed Taiwan's history and identity, often laced with Hou's own memories. From September 12 through October 17, 2014, Museum of the Moving Image will present Also like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien-the first comprehensive Hou retrospective in New York since 1999. It includes all of Hou's seventeen feature films as director, presented on film (including two new 35mm prints), as well as rare shorts, and a selection of related films, among them Olivier Assayas's documentary HHH: A Portrait of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang's seminal Taipei Story (starring, and co-written by, Hou), and Wu Nien-jen's rarely shown A Borrowed Life.
"Although Hou Hsiao-hsien has been widely regarded as one of the world's greatest directors, most of his films are not in distribution in the United States," said David Schwartz, the Museum's Chief Curator. "We are very grateful to Richard Suchenski at Bard College for tracking down and securing the best film prints in the world of Hou's films, and creating this essential retrospective."
The internationally touring retrospective, Also like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien, was organized by Richard I. Suchenski (Director, Center for Moving Image Arts at Bard College) in collaboration with Amber Wu (Taipei Cutural Center, NY) and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The retrospective arrives in conjunction with the publication of the new monograph Hou Hsiao-hsien (2014, Austrian Filmmuseum and Columbia University Press), edited by Suchenski, and featuring essays by scholars and filmmakers including Olivier Assayas, Peggy Chiao, James Quandt, Jia Zhangke, Kent Jones, Hirokazu Kore-eda, and Jean Ma.
At the core of the retrospective are the films that established Hou's reputation-and which are widely regarded as his masterpieces-including A Time to Live and a Time to Die (1985), A City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993), Flowers of Shanghai (1998), and Flight of the Red Balloon (2007); as well as rarely shown early works that trace the development of Hou's style and recurring themes. Throughout the Museum's presentation, films will be introduced by scholars and critics beginning with series organizer Richard I. Suchenski on opening night with Flowers of Shanghai, presented in a new 35mm print (Sept. 12); critic J. Hoberman with The Puppetmaster (Sept. 13); critic Amy Taubin with Three Times (Sept. 14); critic Jonathan Rosenbaum with The Sandwich Man, an omnibus film that features the Hou-directed The Son's Big Doll (Oct. 5); and critic/author Phillip Lopate with Dust in the Wind (Oct. 11).
Also on opening day, Friday, September 12, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m., the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and Columbia University School of the Arts-Film will host a panel discussion about Hou Hsiao-hsien featuring Ian Buruma, Bard College; Richard Suchenski; and Richard Peña, Columbia University. The discussion takes place at Kent Hall 403, 1140 Amsterdam Avenue, Columbia University. All screenings take place at the Museum and are included with Museum admission (free for Museum members). A full schedule is included below.
Hou's 1989 film A City of Sadness was a watershed for both Hou's career and for Taiwanese cinema: the first Taiwanese film to depict the volatile period of transition after Japanese colonial rule. Inspired in part by The Godfather, this intimate family saga follows the fortunes of three brothers-the eldest, a gangster; the middle son, a translator; the youngest a photographer-as they navigate the shifting political tides. The film's formal audacity-the flashbacks, the emphasis on the quotidian, long takes with in-depth staging, the evocative use of sound-was critically acclaimed (the film won the prestigious Golden Lion at that year's Venice Film Festival) and it struck a chord at home where audiences flocked to see it, breaking box office records.
A City of Sadness, together with The Puppetmaster (1993), a hybrid film that looks at the life of performer Li Tien-lu (declared a "national treasure" in Taiwan and who frequently appeared in Hou's films), and Good Men, Good Women (1995; presented in a new 35mm print), formed Hou's historical trilogy and established him as the foremost recorder of his nation's troubled past. Rather than subscribing to a grand historical narrative, he favored the perspective of individuals and families as history unfolded around them. His friend and admirer Chinese director Jia Zhangke called Hou "the genius narrator passing down the memories of a nation through films" and captures Hou discussing the making of Flowers of Shanghai-Hou's first film shot outside of Taiwan, a lavish costume drama set in a Shanghai brothel-in his own subversive documentary I Wish I Knew (2010; screening October 17).
Hou's own life as the son of displaced mainland Chinese parents living in Taiwan served as ripe source material for his films. (Hou was born in 1947 in Guangdong, China.) Together with like-minded artists, including the filmmakers Edward Yang (Taipei Story, screening September 21) and Wu Nien-jen (A Borrowed Life, screening September 28) and writer Chu Tien-wen (a longtime collaborator of Hou's), this cohort formed the basis of the first wave of the New Taiwanese Cinema, which blossomed in the 1980s. Drawing from their own experiences, they examined the lives of regular people, often from rural places, as they adapted to a rapidly urbanizing Taiwan. The omnibus film The Sandwich Man (1983; screening October 5), featuring three segments (including the Hou-directed The Big Son's Doll), was a key film in the emergence of the New Cinema movement. The experience of coming-of-age for this generation is captured in Hou's trilogy of A Summer at Grandpa's (1984), A Time to Live and a Time to Die (1985), and Dust in the Wind (1986).
The series also includes Hou's earliest feature films. A trio of light, romantic tales starred the Hong Kong pop icon Kenny Bee: Cute Girl (1980), Cheerful Wind (1981)-both also featuring Taiwanese pop star Feng Fei-fei, when the two stars were at the height of their fame-and The Green, Green Grass of Home (1982). These films mark the emergence of Hou's stylistic signature, especially his thematic focus on movements between rural and urban spaces. A more significant work, The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) follows three young men who leave their fishing village for the city as they await being called up for compulsory military service; one of his most emotionally direct works, it has been compared to Fellini's I Vitelloni.
Another rarely shown film, Daughter of the Nile (1987), centering on a young fast-food worker who listens to pop music and reads Japanese manga, shares the cool detachment and focus on disaffected youth in cities that appear in Hou's more recent films, such as Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996) and the techno-infused Millennium Mambo (2001) (his first to open theatrically in the United States). Three Times, released in 2005, tells three love stories, set in 1911, 1966, and 2005, each with the same actors, the luminous Shu Qi and the charismatic Chang Chen, playing the lovers.
Hou's celebrated Café Lumière (2003) is a Tokyo-set ode to Yasujiro Ozu, while his most recent film, Flight of the Red Balloon (2007), set in Paris and starring Juliette Binoche, is a tribute to Albert Lamorisse's 1956 classic The Red Balloon.
Hou's importance to Taiwanese cinema is unparalleled and his influence on contemporary filmmakers is wide-ranging; it can be seen in the films of Olivier Assayas, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hou's compatriot Tsai Ming-liang, and Jim Jarmusch, among many others. Hou's films reveal an innovative relationship between realism and modernism and ultimately offer the audience a rare sense of optimism for the future of the medium of film itself.