Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Beiqing chengshi (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1989) aka A City of Sadness

City of Sadness (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1989)
Rating: 10

A flawless masterpiece and the most politically important film in Taiwanese history as it addresses the 1947 massacre known as the 2/28 incident. After the end of WWII Taiwan gains independence from Japan after 51 years of occupation, but a new war between the mainlanders and the Taiwanese people begins. The story of Taiwan is told through the lives of a family of brothers who are effected by the radical changes and savage violence they are surrounded by. The film contain so many individually brilliant scenes that coalesce into a perfect whole. The juxtaposition of funeral and wedding procession, Wen-ching, who is deaf while in prison, unable to hear the gun shots not reacting to their executions, street riots, a beautiful New Year's celebration scene, and my personal favorite is the family photograph taken at the end of the film. The family sits in front of an artificial backdrop while the baby looks around the room, distracted, before looking up at the camera and smiling just as it flashes. Hinomi, Wen-ching's wife sends the photograph to their family with a letter announcing his arrest three days after the photo was taken. The photo captures a false or perhaps temporary moment of happiness as chaos and tragedy cloud their lives. Fittingly, the film ends with uncertainty.

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