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Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien

October 10, 2014 - December 14, 2014

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“I make films because I love this world and I believe in people,” notes Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, “the world’s greatest working narrative filmmaker” (J. Hoberman). A graduate of Taiwan’s National Arts Academy (known more as a theater school than a film hotbed), Hou first came to prominence as a key figure of the New Taiwan Cinema movement of the eighties, thanks to naturalistic works like The Boys from Fengkuei (1983) and Dust in the Wind (1986), which quietly yet eloquently captured the textures and essence of everyday life. Later films, such as City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993), and Flowers of Shanghai (1998), added a more sweeping political and historical scope to his work, yet retained that sense of intimacy, of eavesdropping upon ordinary lives that happened to be lived in extraordinary times. (“The growth of an individual, or of a whole nation,” he once stated, “often occurs without us noticing.”) These films, and later international efforts like Café Lumiere (2003), solidified his status among the world’s elite filmmakers. In 1998, a worldwide critics’ poll named him “one of the three directors most crucial to the future of cinema.”

Our series, which continues through December, begins appropriately with Hou’s earliest titles, including his extremely rare “commercial trilogy.” Low-budget, quickly shot romantic comedies featuring Canto-pop icons, they are certainly atypical of Hou’s later films, yet stand as fascinating representatives of the era’s popular Taiwanese cinema, which was simultaneously overshadowed by the dominant Hong Kong film industry and hampered by its own government’s tight-fisted regulations. Within the gaps these romantic comedies and dramas thrived, carving out a uniquely Taiwanese identity by addressing the nation’s emerging middle-class culture and concerns about rapid urbanization. Offering glimpses of Hou’s first steps as a filmmaker, these key titles—unavailable on DVD—also provide invaluable snapshots of a Taiwan in the throes of change.

Jason Sanders

Friday, October 10, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Sandwich Man
Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tseng Chuang-hsiang, Wan Jen (Taiwan, 1983). Considered the opening salvo of the New Taiwan Cinema, The Sandwich Man combined short films by three directors into a declaration of intent and a statement on a rapidly modernizing Taiwan. (100 mins)

Friday, October 10, 2014
9:00 p.m. Cute Girl
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1980). Hou Hsiao-hsien made an unlikely feature debut with this breezy romantic comedy starring Hong Kong singer Kenny Bee and Taiwanese pop diva Feng Fei-fei. Eighties fashion, Canto-pop-driven montages, and glimpses of a changing Taipei pepper this tale of mismatched lovers. (90 mins)

Sunday, October 19, 2014
6:45 p.m. The Green, Green Grass of Home
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1982). Hong Kong crooner Kenny Bee is an idealistic big-city teacher assigned to a remote rural village in Hou’s gentle look at country life. (91 mins)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
7:00 p.m. Cheerful Wind
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1981). Hong Kong singer Kenny Bee and Taiwanese pop diva Feng Fei-fei return for Hou’s extremely rare second film, which follows the unlikely romance between a blind man and a photographer across Taiwan’s most scenic locales. (81 mins)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Boys from Fengkuei
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1983). A trio of bored teenagers finds trouble and women from the small island of Fengkuei to the bustling southern port of Kaohsiung in Hou’s fourth film. “A triumph of the hauntingly ordinary” (Village Voice). (99 mins)

Saturday, November 1, 2014
8:15 p.m. A Summer at Grandpa's
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1984). Two city kids spend a summer in the countryside while their mother is hospitalized in the film that marked Hou’s arrival on the world-cinema stage. “Gentle, deeply humane and totally assured” (Tony Rayns). (98 mins)

Thursday, November 6, 2014
7:00 p.m. A Time to Live and a Time to Die
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1985). Out of his own childhood, Hou weaves a picture of a moment in time. "A spectacular triumph without anything of the 'spectacular' about it" (Derek Malcolm). (136 mins)

Friday, November 7, 2014
7:00 p.m. Dust in the Wind
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1986). The story of a country boy's lost love, "a heartbreaking film of profound humanity, the high point of an enormously gifted director in mid-career" (Evans Chan). (110 mins)

Sunday, November 9, 2014
6:00 p.m. Daughter of the Nile
Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Taiwan, 1987). A young woman and her brother float along the periphery of the Taipei underworld in Hou’s intriguing blend of gangster tale and mood-drenched drama, a fascinating and little-seen forerunner to his Millennium Mambo and Goodbye South, Goodbye. (93 mins)

Thursday, November 13, 2014
7:00 p.m. A City of Sadness
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1989). Free screening. A family lives through Taiwan’s independence from Japan, and later political crackdown. Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung stars in “one of the supreme masterworks of contemporary cinema” (Jonathan Rosenbaum). (158 mins)

Friday, November 14, 2014
7:00 p.m. The Puppetmaster
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1993). Free screening. Introduction and booksigning by Richard Suchenski. Suchenski and Guo-Juin Hong in conversation. Hou's film about the puppeteer Li Tien-lu is "epic in scope but personal in outlook, astonishingly rich in atmosphere but as unforced as the passing moment" (Kent Jones). (142 mins)

Saturday, November 15, 2014
8:30 p.m. Good Men, Good Women
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1995). New 35mm print! Introduced by Richard Suchenski. Hou views Cold War repression in Taiwan through a present-day scrim. "A rigorous work of art whose mysteries are worth unraveling" (Caryn James). (108 mins)

Friday, November 21, 2014
9:00 p.m. Goodbye South, Goodbye
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1996). A band of “gangsters” move from one luckless scheme to another in the south of Taiwan in Hou’s take on the gangster film, which replaces gun battles and violence with the quiet moments in between. “A fascinating window onto modern Taiwan” (Berenice Reynaud). (112 mins)

Sunday, November 23, 2014
4:00 p.m. Flowers of Shanghai
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1998). New 35mm print! Tony Leung stars in Hou's quietly sumptuous tale of brothel life in nineteenth-century Shanghai. "'Surrender' is the key to this visually ravishing masterpiece" (Philip Lopate). (113 mins)

Sunday, November 30, 2014
4:00 p.m. Flowers of Shanghai
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 1998). New 35mm print! Tony Leung stars in Hou's quietly sumptuous tale of brothel life in nineteenth-century Shanghai. "'Surrender' is the key to this visually ravishing masterpiece" (Philip Lopate). (113 mins)

Friday, December 5, 2014
7:00 p.m. Millennium Mambo
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan/France, 2001). The glamorous Shu Qi pouts her way through Taipei’s neon nightclubs in this hypnotic look at contemporary youth, shot by In The Mood For Love cameraman Mark Lee Ping-bin. “Among the most sublime, compelling, and beautifully crafted films to ever grace the big screen” (Film Threat). (119 mins)

Saturday, December 6, 2014
7:30 p.m. Three Times
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Taiwan, 2005). Three different time periods, two lead roles, and one eternal love: Hou Hsiao-hsien's romantic work moves across the history of Taiwan—and the arc of the director's career—to explore the memory of love in 1966, 1911, and today. “Hypnotically beautiful” (Manohla Dargis). (130 mins)

Friday, December 12, 2014
7:00 p.m. Café Lumière
Hou Hsiao-hsien (Japan/Taiwan, 2003). Hou Hsiao-hsien pays tribute to Yasujiro Ozu in this meditative look at life and love in contemporary Tokyo, starring Tadanobu Asano. “The plot is spare, but the sounds, images, and ambience are indelible” (Jonathan Rosenbaum). (103 mins)

Sunday, December 14, 2014
6:00 p.m. Flight of the Red Balloon
Hou Hsiao-hsien (France/Taiwan, 2008). Hou Hsiao-hsien’s experimental remake of the French children’s classic. Starring Juliette Binoche and the City of Light. (115 mins)

International retrospective organized by Richard I. Suchenski, director of the Center for Moving Image Arts at Bard College, in collaboration with Amber Wu, Taipei Cultural Center in New York, and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The book Hou Hsiao-hsien (Vienna: Österreichisches Filmmuseum and New York: Columbia University Press, 2014) is being released in conjunction with this retrospective and will be available at the PFA Theater. At BAM/PFA, the series is presented in conjunction with the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley and organized by Film Curator Kathy Geritz