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. Continue reading Edward Yang – Kong bu fen zi aka The Terrorizers (1986)
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. Continue reading Fred Tan – Li gui chan shen AKA Split Of The Spirit (1987)
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? Continue reading Hsin-yao Huang – The Great Buddha + (2017)
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. Continue reading Hsiao-Hsien Hou – Nie yin niang AKA The Assassin (2015)
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. Continue reading Hsiao-hsien Hou – Flowers of Shanghai AKA Hai shang hua (1998)
A strange disease starts to affect people in Taiwan just before the year 2000. The authorities order everyone to evacuate, but some tenants of an apartment building stay put, including a shop owner who lives by himself. One day, a plumber goes to the shop owner’s apartment to check the pipes. The plumber drills a small hole in the floor, which comes down through the ceiling of another apartment. The hole never gets repaired, and this leads to some tension between the shop owner and the woman who lives below him. Continue reading Ming-liang Tsai – Dong AKA The Hole (1998)
A City Of Sadness opens with a credit sequence-shot of total darkness as the solemn voice of Emperor Hirohito is heard over a radio broadcast announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. The setting is then faintly illuminated by the warm glow of candles to reveal an anxious Taiwanese household that is preparing for the imminent birth of a child in the midst of a power failure. As the electricity is restored, the audible agony of the expectant mother gives way to the sound of a crying infant. The apparent metaphor is then reinforced in the subsequent intertitles that reveal that the concubine of Lin Wen-heung (Chen Sown-yung) had given birth to a son whom they name Kang-ming, meaning ‘light.’ However, as the film chronicles the lives of the Lin family during the turbulent four years between the Japanese withdrawal from Taiwan after 51 years of occupation in 1945, to the secession of Taiwan from mainland China in 1949, the hopeful and optimistic tone of the film’s introductory sequence seemingly proves untenable. Continue reading Hsiao-Hsien Hou – Beiqíng chéngshì AKA A City of Sadness (1989)