Taiwanese master filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien gets extensive retrospective

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      If you think of Taiwanese cinema, you probably think of the renowned Ang Lee.

      But there are other directors that should be on your radar who you might not be as familiar with.

      If you haven't seen the films of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, the Cinematheque is mounting an expansive and comprehensive retrospective of his work, Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien (February 6 to March 11), that spans several decades.

      Hou, a master of the long take, arose among Taiwan's New Wave in the 1980s and was one of the leading figures who drew attention to East Asian cinema with his masterworks.

      He was born in mainland China in 1947 but his family fled to rural Taiwan to escape the Chinese Civil War. This experience is reflected in his 1985 semi-autobiographical film A Time to Live and a Time to Die (Tongnian wangshi) which follows a boy who grows up in the 1950s and '60s with a gambling addiction.  

      One of Hou's most critically acclaimed works is A City of Sadness (Beiqing chengshi), a 1989 family drama set during the time when Japan surrendered Taiwan to China in 1945 after half a century of rule. The film, starring Tony Leung, follows the Lin family during the atrocities of the White Terror, a period of martial law by the Kuomintang government.   

      The film's followup, 1993's The Puppetmaster (Xi meng rensheng) is also revered as one of Hou's greatest accomplishments. This biopic tells the real-life story of puppeteer Li Tien-lu (who plays the grandfather in A City of Sadness) who turned his talent to serve pro-Japanese propaganda.

      The final film in Hou's historical trilogy is his 1995 feature Good Men, Good Women (Haonan, Haonu). Hou tells the story of an actress preparing to play the role of Chiang Bi-Yu, a woman who led the anti-Japanese resistance in the 1940s.

      As evident from the previous examples, Japan figures prominently among the selections, including several coproductions.

      His 1998 masterpiece, Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua), is a Taiwanese-Japanese coproduction starring Tony Leung and Michiko Hada in a tale of five courtesans in late 19th century Shanghai.

      Another Japanese coproduction, Café Lumière (Kohi jiko) is an homage to Japanese master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. Hou directed an all-Japanese cast in a story about a Japanese writer researching the life of a Taiwanese composer who befriends a bookstore owner.

      There are also two French coproductions in the lineup, such as the 2001 drama Millenium Mambo which recounts the life of an aimless club hostess in Taipei who seeks to escape her controlling boyfriend.

      There's also Flight of the Red Balloon (Le voyage du ballon rouge), a tribute to Albert Lamorisse's 1956 short film "The Red Balloon" which stars Juliette Binoche as a puppeteer whose nanny, a Taiwanese film student, takes her son to see the sites where "The Red Balloon" was shot.

      A recurring theme in Asian film is the clash between generations and locale (rural versus urban), such as in Ozu's famed 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story or the 2002 Korean domestic box-office smash The Way Home. That theme surfaces in Hou's 1984 coming-of-age film A Summer at Grandpa's, about two city kids sent to live with their grandfather in the country.

      Other selections in the exhibition include everything from rom-coms (Cute Girl, his directorial debut; Cheerful Wind; The Green, Green Grass of Home) to a Taiwanese omnibus film (The Sandwich Man).

      The full list of titles, with screening information, is available at the Cinematheque website. Stay tuned: we'll be posting reviews of some of the titles in the exhibition in the coming weeks.