A City of Sadness

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A City of Sadness
City of Sadness.jpg
Japanese DVD cover
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Produced by Chiu Fu-sheng
Written by Chu Tien-wen
Wu Nien-jen
Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Sung Young Chen
Jack Kao
Li Tian-lu
Music by S.E.N.S.
Cinematography Chen Huai-en
Edited by Liao Ching-song
3-H Films
Distributed by Era Communications (Int'l rights)
Release dates
Running time
157 minutes
Country Taiwan
Language Taiwanese

A City of Sadness (Chinese: 悲情城市; pinyin: bēiqíng chéngshì) is a 1989 Taiwanese historical drama film directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. It tells the story of a family embroiled in the tragic "White Terror" that was wrought on the Taiwanese people by the Kuomintang government (KMT) after their arrival from mainland China in the late 1940s, during which thousands of Taiwanese were rounded up, shot, and/or sent to prison. The film was the first to deal openly with the KMT's authoritarian misdeeds after its 1945 takeover of Taiwan, which had been restored to China following Japan's defeat in WWII, and the first to depict the February 28 Incident of 1947, in which thousands of people were massacred.

A City of Sadness was the first Taiwanese film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. More recently critics hail it as a masterpiece; in the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll, 14 critics and two directors named it one of the greatest films ever made, placing it at #117 in the critics' poll and #322 in the directors'.[1] The film was selected as the Taiwanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.[2]


The film depicts the Lin family's experiences during the February 28 Incident. The eldest brother Wen-heung (Sung Young Chen) is murdered by a Shanghai mafia boss, the middle brother Wen-leung (Jack Kao) suffers a traumatic brain injury in a KMT jailhouse, and the youngest brother Wen-ching (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), who is both deaf and mute, hopes to flee to the mountains with his friend to fight in the anti-KMT resistance movement. By the end of the film even the photographer Wen-ching has been arrested by the authorities, leaving only his wife to tell the story of the family's destruction.

Wen-ching's deafness began as an expedient way to disguise Tony Leung's inability to speak Taiwanese (or Japanese—the language taught in Taiwan's schools during the 51-year Japanese rule), but wound up being an effective means to demonstrate the brutal insensitivity of Chen Yi's ROC administration.


The Lin Family[edit]

Other Roles[edit]


A City of Sadness was filmed on location in Jiufen, an old and declined gold mining town in northeast of Taiwan. The film revived Jiufen, and it became a popular tourist attraction.[citation needed]

This film is regarded as the first installment in a trilogy of films that deal with Taiwanese history, which also includes The Puppetmaster (1993) and Good Men, Good Women (1995).

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • 1989 Golden Horse Film Festival
    • Won: Best Director – Hou Hsiao-hsien
    • Won: Best Leading Actor – Sung Young Chen
    • Nominated: Best Film
    • Nominated: Best Screenplay – Chu Tien-wen, Wu Nien-jen
    • Nominated: Best Editing – Liao Ching-song

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ""City of Sadness, A" (1989)". British Film Institute. Retrieved June 3, 2015. 
  2. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  3. ^ "The awards of the Venice Film Festival". Retrieved 2011-03-06. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Berenice Reynaud, A City of Sadness, British Film Institute, 2002.

External links[edit]