The Time to Live & the Time to Die, the second chapter in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s ‘Coming-of-Age Trilogy’, was the movie that catapulted the Taiwanese filmmaker into the realm of international arthouse acclaim. This semi-autobiographical film about the childhood and adolescence of Hou as first-generation émigrés in a small Taiwanese town, can be clubbed, from stylistic and narrative aspects, with Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day and Zhang-Ke’s Zhantai. Hou's stand-in, nicknamed Ah-Ah, finds himself in a foreign land when, while he is still a kid, his father relocates from mainland China in the hope of better opportunities. The large closely-knit family, which also comprised of his mother, elder sister, three brothers, and grandmother, live a modest life in the dusty little town where hardly much happens. The immediate financial constraints, compounded by his father’s recurring ill health, and the largely non-descript social environ, took the forefront, with subtle political observations carefully placed in the background. Chronicled in a gently rhythmic, quietly nostalgic and compassionate tone, and shot using static long takes, the film, with its delicate, minimalistic, non-intrusive and distancing formalism, beautifully covered such themes as cultural disconnect, familial bonds, social uncertainty and the process of maturation through a series of mundane and unspectacular processes. When the leisurely paced film comes to its finale, it would compel the viewers to introspect at the journey covered, filled with moments of both joy and poignancy. The most memorable character was easily the doting, loveable and increasingly forgetful grandmother, who reminded me a lot of Indir Thakrun's character in Ray’s Pather Panchali.
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Genre: Drama/Family Drama/Coming-of-Age