Sunday 11 May 2014

The Puppetmaster [1993]

The Puppetmaster, the 2nd chapter in Hou’s acclaimed ‘Taiwan Trilogy’, dealt with the 50-year Japanese occupation of the country that lasted until the end of WWII, recounted through the life of master puppeteer Li Tian-lu, whose childhood and adult phases coincided with that period. Considerably less complex formally and in terms of narration and structuring vis-à-vis A City of Sadness, this richly textured, gently told, leisurely paced and bittersweet film subtly and deftly portrayed life under the occupation through a deeply personal tale and the prism of memory. Li lost his mother while still a kid, he never got along with his step-mother, he became part of travelling troupes at a young age which helped in developing his skills and his reputation as a puppeteer, he becomes embroiled in an extra-marital relationship with the Madame of a brothel, and eventually becomes part of propaganda shows organized by the Japanese military, and these were exquisitely juxtaposed with the changing times, the social and political uncertainly, and the uneasy relationship between the occupiers and the occupied. The narrative was regularly interspersed with an ageing Li appearing in front of the camera and providing fascinating little insights and wryly humorous reminiscences to his life and the changing times. Hou also made considerable use of actual puppet shows which laced the tale with allegorical commentaries. The staggering depth and breadth of the storyline were brilliantly accentuated by beautiful vistas of the Taiwanese countryside and traditional folk tunes. The most striking feature of this rich tapestry lay in its covering such an ambitious scope through mundane details and lyrical storytelling, imbued with simplicity, pathos and humanism, reminiscent, at some level, of the Theo masterpiece The Travelling Players.

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

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