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Archive for September 7th, 2009

a-time-to-live-and-a-time-to-die-1985

by Allan Fish

(Taiwan 1985 138m) DVD3 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Tong nien wang shi

Road back to the mainland

p  Zhang Huakun, Yue Wanli  d  Hou Hsiao-Hsien  w  Chou T’ien-wen, Hou Hsiao-Hsien  ph  Pin Bing Lee  ed  Wang Qiyang  m  Wu Chuchu  art  Lin Chongwen

You Anshun (Ah-Ha-Gu), Mei-Feng (Fen-Ming), Tang Yu-Yuen (Grandmother), Tien Fang, Xin Shufen, Yiu Ann-Shuin, Xiao Ai,

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s magnum opus – indeed his entire output – is admittedly an acquired taste, but the reader must excuse me when I paraphrase the late Alexander Walker when I say, as he did about another Asian classic Farewell, My Concubine, that this taste is not only acquired, it is required.  Many of Hou’s films are based upon incidents in his own life, but it’s fair to say he never made a more personal film than this 1985 gem and, along with Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups, it’s probably the greatest autobiographical film in cinema history.  Sadly, however, it is not as easy to see as Truffaut’s film, and one shares the exasperation of David Thomson, who bemoaned the lack of opportunities to see Hou’s early masterworks in any form (even the Hong Kong DVD is only available as part of a pricey box set). 

            It follows Hou’s childhood in Hualien following his father’s migration to Taiwan in 1948.  Hou (or Ah-Ha-Gu) grows up with his family, including his consumptive father and old grandmother.  Seen through to his young adulthood, Ah-Ha-Gu experiences familial loss while trying to find his place in the streets in fifties Taiwan, struggling to reconcile his familial duties with his melon knife wielding, delinquent associates.  (more…)

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