Saturday 21 September 2013

A City of Sadness [1989]

City of Sadness, the first chapter in his Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s acclaimed ‘Taiwan Trilogy’, provided a meditative look into the country’s transition from the end of Japanese occupation in 1945, to its secession from mainland China in 1949 and beginning of nearly 40 years of martial law. Formally rigorous approach, along with a contemplative and mournful tone, were used for chronicling how each seemingly positive development, which, at that point, provided reason for hope for a more peaceful future, eventually always led to tragedy. The socio-political unfurling was dealt with, often tacitly in the form of backdrops, through the changing fortunes of a family during those turbulent few years. Though comprising of four brothers, the two who were most vividly portrayed were Wen-Hung (Chen Sown-yung), the sturdy, rugged, practical and enterprising elder brother who distinctively represented the ‘masculine’ type, and Wen-Ching (Tony Leung), the shy, tender, artistic, left-leaning and deaf youngest brother; among the other two, one went missing in action, while the other, though managed to return from war, got afflicted with insanity. The two brothers didn’t just represent the two ends of their generation, they also subtly represented the two sides of political ideologies. The Japan-China divide, the growing hostility and unrest, and the increasing political purges and street anarchy, were subtly captured through the arcs of these two brilliantly enacted protagonists. The silent narrator for the chaos turned out to be the soft-spoken sister of Wen’s politically conscious and intellectual friend. The dense and elliptical narrative, the various historical references, and the ponderous pacing accentuated by Hou’s love for static long takes and non-action, however, made this a challenging watch.

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Family Drama
Language: Taiwanese/Mandarin/Japanese
Country: Taiwan


Sam Juliano said...

I agree it's a great film, though true enough not always easy to watch as you persuasively argue. Yes it is contemplative and mournful and leaves a lasting impression. Excellent review Shubhajit!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. This is one of those films that requires a certain effort on the viewers' fronts - in terms of appreciating the formalism, the historical context, the political commentaries, the mournful tone, etc.