A City of Sadness

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A City of Sadness
Beiqing-chengshi-taiwanese-movie-poster-md.jpg
Taiwanese film poster
Chinese悲情城市
Mandarinbēiqíng chéngshì
LiterallyCity of sadness
Directed byHou Hsiao-hsien
Produced byChiu Fu-sheng
Written byChu T’ien-wen
Wu Nien-jen
StarringTony Leung Chiu Wai
Sung Young Chen
Jack Kao
Li Tian-lu
Music byS.E.N.S.
CinematographyChen Hwai-en
Edited byLiao Ching-song
Production
company
3-H Films
Distributed byEra Communications (Int'l rights)
Release date
Running time
157 minutes
CountryTaiwan
LanguageTaiwanese
Mandarin
Japanese
Cantonese
Shanghainese

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 "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 and recent emigres from the Mainland 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 World War II, and the first to depict the February 28 Incident of 1947, in which thousands of people were massacred by the KMT.

A City of Sadness was the first (of three) Taiwanese films to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, and is often considered Hou's masterpiece.[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]

This film is regarded as the first installment in a trilogy of Hsiao-Hsien's films that deal with Taiwanese history, which also includes The Puppetmaster (1993) and Good Men, Good Women (1995). These films are collectively called the "Taiwan Trilogy" by academics and critics.[3]

Plot[edit]

The film follows the Lin family in a coastal town near Taipei, Taiwan, from 1945 to 1949, the period after the end of 50 years of Japanese colonial rule and before the establishment of a government-in-exile in Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Kuomintang forces once the Communist army captured mainland China.

The film starts on August 15, 1945, with the voice of Emperor Hirohito announcing Japan's unconditional surrender. Meanwhile, Lin Wen-heung, who runs a bar called "Little Shanghai" and is the eldest of the Lin's four sons, awaits the birth of his child. The second son died in the Philippines during the war. The fourth and youngest son, Wen-ching, is a photographer with leftist leanings who became deaf following a childhood accident; he is close friends with Hinoe and Hinoe's sister, Hinomi.

The third son, Lin Wen-leung, returns to Taiwan from the war but suffers a nervous breakdown. He begins to engage in illegal activities, including the theft of Japanese currency notes and the smuggling of drugs with Shanghaiese drug dealers. Wen-heung eventually learns of this and stops Wen-leung. However, this leads the Shanghaiese mob to arrange for Wen-leung's imprisonment on false charges of collaboration with the Japanese. While in prison, Wen-leung is tortured and suffers a brain injury that leaves him mentally ill after his release.

The February 28 Incident of 1947 occurs, in which thousands of Taiwanese people are massacred by Kuomintang troops. The Lin family follows announcements related to the event via radio, in which Chen Yi, the chief executive of Taiwan, declares martial law to suppress dissenters. The wounded pour into the neighborhood clinic, and Wen-ching and Hinoe are arrested. Upon their released from prison, Hinoe heads for the mountains to join the leftist guerillas. Wen-ching expresses his desire to join Hinoe, but Hinoe convinces Wen-ching to return and marry Hinomi, who loves him.

When Lin Wen-heung is gambling at a casino one day, a fight breaks out with one of the Shanghainese who previously framed Wen-leung. This results in Wen-heung being shot and killed by a Shanghainese mafia member. Following Wen-heung's funeral, Wen-ching and Hinomi marry at home, and Hinomi later bears a child. The couple support Hinoe's resistance group, but the guerilla forces are defeated and executed. They manage to inform Wen-ching of the fact and encourage him to escape, but Hinomi later recounts that they did not have anywhere to go. As a result, Wen-ching is soon arrested by the Kuomintang for his involvement with the guerillas.

Cast[edit]

Music[edit]

No. Name No. Name
01 悲情城市~A City Of Sadness 04 Hiromiのテーマ
02 Hiromi~Flute Solo 05 悲情城市~Variation 2
03 文清のテーマ 06 凛~Dedicated To Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Sourced from Xiami Music[4]

Production[edit]

A City of Sadness was filmed on location in Jiufen, an old and declined gold mining town in northeast of Taiwan.

Background[edit]

By the 1980's, the New Taiwanese Cinema movement was moving towards not just creating films for the people of Taiwan, but also for a larger, international audience. Directors Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang noted that they wanted to emulate the popularity of Hong Kong cinema, which revolved around high quality productions with strong star power to back it up.[3] In A City of Sadness, Hou relied primarily on foreign investment, particularly form Japan. Japanese technology, techniques, and facilities were used in the post-production and resulted in what critic and producer Zhan Hongzhi described as an aspect of "high-quality" that could draw in international viewership.[3] Another aspect of this plan was star power, reflected in one of the principal characters, Wen-ching being played by then rising Hong Kong film star Tony Leung.[3] The intention behind this was to increase Hong Kong and Overseas Chinese viewership. The film also used an array of different languages, chiefly Taiwanese Hokkien, Cantonese, Japanese, and Shanghainese as a way to promote the cultural diversity of the cast and reflectively, of Taiwan to a global audience, which stands in contrast to many earlier films being only in Mandarin Chinese, due to the governments promotion of Mandarin as the national language.[3]

Conceptualization[edit]

Hou Hsiao-hsien was interested in creating a film that could tell a story about a family, specifically during the 228 Incident and the White Terror by a few reasons. He cited how the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988 and the lifting of martial law the year prior made it an appropriate time to address the 228 Incident, which Hou felt had been covered up by the government. He noted how books were not available on the subject and he wanted to provided a vantage point about the story through the lens of a family.[5]

Hou Hsiao-hsien wrote:

"Everybody knew about the 228 Incident. Nobody would say anything, at least in public, but behind closed doors everyone was talking about it, especially in the Tangwai Movement [..] The 228 Incident was already known, so I was more interested in filming a time of transition, and the changes in a family during a change in regime. This was the main thing I wanted to capture… There’s been too much political intervention. We should go back to history itself for a comprehensive reflection, but politicians like to use this tragedy as an ATM, making a withdrawal from it whenever they want. It’s awful. So no matter what point of view I took with the film, people would still criticize it. I was filming events that were still taboo, I had a point of view, and no matter what, I was filming from the point of view of people and a family… Of course it’s limited by the filmmaker’s vision and attitude. I can only present a part of the atmosphere of the time."[5]

According to scriptwriter Chu Tien-Wen's book, the original premise of the film was the reunion of an ex-gangster (which Hou Hsiao-Hsien intended to cast Chow Yun-fat for the role) and his former lover (supposedly played by Yang Li-Hua, the top Taiwanese Opera actress in real-life) in 1970s. Hou and Chu then extended the story to involve substantial flashbacks of the calamity of the woman's family in late 1940s (where the woman was the teenage daughter of Chen Song-Yong's character). They then abandoned the former premise and instead focused on the 1940s' story.

Film Techniques[edit]

The movie includes many Chinese dialects, such as Southern Min, Cantonese and Shanghainese, which make this film pellucid for different groups of people. Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley explains that "by representing the political reality of the late 1940s indirectly, A City of Sadness deals with the past, but is not trapped by the past, and is able to achieve a sense of objectiveness and authenticity."[6] The use of dialects and historical facts can make audiences have a connection to characters within the film, and insure the objectiveness and authenticity.

Wen-ching's deafness and muteness 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.[7]

Reception and impact[edit]

Critical Reception[edit]

A City of Sadness was a major commercial success in Taiwan, but critics were largely ambivalent toward the work. Having been advertised as a film about the February 28 Incident but never explicitly depicting the event, the film was consequently criticized as politically ambiguous, as well as overly difficult to follow.[8] It was also criticised for not depicting the events of February 28 well, instead presenting the events in a subtle and elliptical manner.[9] It is now widely considered a masterpiece,[10] and has been described as "probably the most significant film to have emerged out of Taiwan’s New Cinema."[8]

Richard Brody of The New Yorker argued, "Hou’s extraordinarily controlled and well-constructed long takes blend revelation and opacity; his favorite trope is to shoot through doorways, as if straining to capture the action over impassable spans of time."[11] In Time Out, Tony Rayns wrote, "Loaded with detail and elliptically structured to let viewers make their own connections, [...] Hou turns in a masterpiece of small gestures and massive resonance; once you surrender to its spell, the obscurities vanish."[12] Jonathan Rosenbaum lauded Hou as "a master of long takes and complex framing, with a great talent for passionate (though elliptical and distanced) storytelling."[13] In the Chicago Tribune, Dave Kehr declared, "A City of Sadness is a great film, one that will be watched as long as there are people who care about the movies as an art."[14]

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 100% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 9.33/10.[15] In the British Film Institute's 2012 Sight & Sound poll, 14 critics and two directors named A City of Sadness one of the ten greatest films ever made, placing it at #117 in the critics' poll and #322 in the directors' poll.[16]

History, Trauma, and Reconciliation[edit]

Critics have noted how this film (as well as the other 2 films that form the trilogy) started a larger discussion into memory and reconciliation for the 228 Incident and the White Terror on Taiwan. Sylvia Lin commented that "literary, scholarly, historical, personal, and cinematic accounts of the past have mushroomed, as the people in Taiwan feel the urgent need to remember, reconstruct, and rewrite that part of their history.”[17] June Yip noted that the Taiwan Trilogy marked a “autobiographical impulse” to reclaim the history that was now acceptable with the lifting or martial law.[18] Another critic, Jean Ma, also noted the method of displaying trauma by Hou felt "real" and could connect to global audiences everywhere from the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, the desaparecidos of Argentina, and the Armenian massacre as instances in which memory bears the ethical burden of a disavowed or denied history."[18]

Resurgence of Taiwanese Hokkien (Taiyu) In Film[edit]

A City Of Sadness has been touted as one of the few films to bring Taiwanese Hokkien to prominence and to a global audience. The usage of Taiwanese Hokkien in the film has been noted to be in direct conflict with the then-rule regarding national language in Taiwan. The Taiwanese language policy about promoting Mandarin made making films in other minority dialects and languages limited to only a third of the total script. A City of Sadness however, was filmed mostly in Taiwanese Hokkien. Hou Hsiao-hsien's film was allowed by the Government Information Office (the office responsible for government censorship/media) to send a copy of the rough cut to Japan for post-production where it was processed and sent directly to the Venice Film Festival without being authenticated by Taiwanese censors from the GIC.[19] The winning of the Golden Lion and Golden Horse Awards marked a first for Chinese-speaking films, but also were controversial, since A City of Sadness violated then rules about national language usage in films. The success of the film however, renewed interest in Taiwanese Hokkien and became part of the Taiyu Language Movement and started a resurgence of films from Taiwan that utilized minority languages such as Hakka alongside other Taiwanese indigenous languages.

Contemporary References[edit]

The term "City Of Sadness" has been used to describe the state of Hong Kong after the 2014 Umbrella Movement by scholars. Academic Tina L. Rochelle has associated the term with how Hong Kong's trajectory mirrors the trajectory of Taiwan during the 228 Incident and the White Terror.[20] much like in the case of the 228 Incident, the Umbrella movement was fueled by building resentment of the way Hong Kong citizens were being treated after the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to the Peoples Republic of China. The cause of anger with citizens was the deterioration of freedoms and rights, the increased feeling of policing, and the imposition of a foreign power's sovereignty over a newly integrated location. This is a characteristic Rochelle highlights as similar in both Taiwan and Hong Kong and is what makes Hong Kong a "modern City of Sadness."[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Xiao, Zhiwei; Zhang, Yingjin (2002). Encyclopedia of Chinese Film. Routledge. p. 190. ISBN 1134745540.
  2. ^ Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  3. ^ a b c d e Trauma and Cinema: Cross-Cultural Explorations. Hong Kong University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-962-209-624-0.
  4. ^ "a City of Sadness Play List on Xiami Music".
  5. ^ a b "Reality in Long Shots: A CITY OF SADNESS | Austin Asian American Film Festival | Online Shorts Festival June 11–17, 2020". Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  6. ^ Rawnsley, Ming-Yeh T. "Cinema, Historiography, and Identities in Taiwan: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's A City of Sadness". Asian Cinema. 22 (2): 196–213. ISSN 1059-440X.
  7. ^ Berry, Michael (October 2005). Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13330-2.
  8. ^ a b "A City of Sadness". Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  9. ^ Linden, Sheri (23 August 2019). "'A City Of Sadness': Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Historical Tragedy Remains A Masterpiece 30 Years Later". SupChina. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
  10. ^ Shaw, Tristan (28 March 2015). "Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien captures life's big, small moments". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 February 2017. "In "A City of Sadness," widely considered a masterpiece,"
  11. ^ Brody, Richard. "A City of Sadness". The New Yorker. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  12. ^ Rayns, Tony. "A City of Sadness". Time Out. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  13. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "A City of Sadness". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  14. ^ Kehr, Dave (22 June 1990). "Taiwanese `Sadness` Filmmaking At Its Best". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  15. ^ "Bei qing cheng shi (A City of Sadness) (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  16. ^ ""City of Sadness, A" (1989)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 20 August 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  17. ^ Lin, Sylvia Li-chun (2007). Representing Atrocity in Taiwan: The 2/28 Incident and White Terror in Fiction and Film. Columbia University Press. doi:10.7312/lin-14360.10#metadata_info_tab_contents.
  18. ^ a b Ma, Jean (2010). Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema. Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-988-8028-05-4.
  19. ^ Zhang, Yingjin (2013). "Articulating Sadness, Gendering Space: The Politics and Poetics of Taiyu Films from 1960s Taiwan". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. 25 (1): 1–46. ISSN 1520-9857.
  20. ^ a b Rochelle, Tina L. (2015). "Diversity and Trust in Hong Kong: An Examination of Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong's 'City of Sadness'". Social Indicators Research. 120 (2): 437–454. ISSN 0303-8300.
  21. ^ "The awards of the Venice Film Festival". Retrieved 6 March 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]