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September 13 - September 21

The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen

One of the wonders of late 20th century world cinema was the sudden wave of extremely talented directors who emerged in Taiwan during the 1980s, an incredible efflorescence that essentially reinvented a national cinema where only its pale shadow had previously existed. Yet, despite the international acclaim given to the leading directors of the so-called New Taiwan Cinema, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, their films rarely screened outside of festivals — until the major, and quite recent, exception of Yi Yi (2000). An important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit, this extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the final chapter of a remarkable partnership between the major talents spotlighted in this program: Edward Yang (1947- 2007) and Wu Nien-jen (1952- ).

In many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang and Wu’s lasting contribution to the New Taiwan Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian vision which Yang refined across his films, guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and architectural structures that trap so many of his characters and, at the same time, inspire their frustrated creativity. And Wu’s effortless, intuitive performance in Yi Yi’s leading role vividly personifies the longings, jaded humor and earned wisdom which Yang and Wu’s films discover in the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan’s economic boom. The deep frustration and restless searching of the struggling entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, including Yi Yi, seem partially autobiographical, an expression of the critical and popular unresponsiveness all too often faced by his films. History will most certainly erode the indifferent and frequently hostile reception given to Yang’s work during his lifetime. Indeed, on the strength of his seven ambitious feature films— and crowned by his magnum opus, A Brighter Summer’s Day— Yang has been increasingly named as one of the Taiwan cinema’s most original and important voices.

Less known outside his native land, the multi-talented Wu has directed two wonderful features—the exquisitely moving A Borrowed Life (1994) and the darkly satirical Buddha Bless America (1996)—as well as countless screenplays exploring the complexities of modern Taiwan and its history. A talented writer, Wu went to work at Taiwan’s Central Motion Picture Corporation in 1980, where he was instrumental in launching the New Taiwan Cinema by encouraging support for new filmmakers. He went on to provide screenplays for many of the movement’s major figures, writing Yang’s That Day on the Beach (1983) and Hou’s Dust in the Wind (1986) and City of Sadness (1989) among many others. Wu is also a talented actor, playing crucial roles in Yang’s Taipei Story and Mahjong, and is today a fixture on television in Taiwan, where he remains a well-known and beloved figure.

The HFA is pleased to welcome Wu Nien-Jen to present his wonderful yet underappreciated films and discuss the career and legacy of Edward Yang. We are extremely grateful to Yang’s family for allowing us to present fragments from his unfinished last work, The Wind, on the opening night of our program and honored to welcome Kaili Peng, Yang’s wife, to speak about his final project.

Special thanks: Alice Wang, Taipei Economic and Cultural Office; Li Yang; Kaili Peng, Kaleidoscope; Teresa Huang, Chinese Taipei Film Archive;Eileen Chow.

Special Event Tickets $10
Kaili Peng in Person

Saturday September 13 at 7pm

Taipei Story (Qingmei Zhuma)

still from taipei storyDirected by Edward Yang.
With Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Chin, Wu Nianzhen
Taiwan 1985, 35mm, color 110 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Yang’s close friend, master filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien, delivers a
remarkable lead performance as a former Little League baseball star faced with an empty future and painfully nostalgic for his childhood success. Hou’s character is caught in the complex grid of obligatory and accidental relationships traced by Yang against the backdrop of Taipei’s first economic awakening. While the film’s English-language title (assigned by Yang himself) deliberately echoes Ozu, its restrained exploration of urban malaise is better compared to Antonioni. What Taipei Story has in common with both Ozu and Antonioni is a concern for the moral and intellectual lassitude and pervasive disillusionment that gradually takes hold in the wake of an economic boom.

The Wind

Directed by Edward Yang.
video, 6 min.

Immediately following Yi Yi’s unexpected success, Yang abruptly turned in a radically new direction, guided by his lifelong passion for graphic novels and drawing. Working in close collaboration with Jackie Chan, Yang dedicated himself to an animated martial arts film, The Wind, which was left incomplete at the time of his death from cancer last year. Although The Wind was only in the early stages of production, completed excerpts have been gathered for this presentation by Yang’s wife, Kaili Peng, who will be present to explain this fascinating project.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Kaili Peng and Wu Nien-jen in Person

Sunday September 14 at 3pm

Yi Yi (A One and a Two…)

still from yi yiDirected by Edward Yang.
With Wu Nianzhen, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee
Taiwan/Japan 2000, 35mm, color, 173 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Edward Yang’s beloved final completed film blends the critical eye of his “Taipei trilogy” with a gentler version of his trenchant, stinging comedies. Yang’s remarkable eye for detail is evident throughout Yi Yi’s sensitive chronicle of an upper-middle class Taiwanese family shaken by a series of unexpected— yet, in retrospect, clearly inevitable— events. As the middle-aged parents ruminate over past decisions and grow anxious for the future, their children grapple with the burdens of growing up. Like so many of Yang’s films, Yi Yi is a carefully orchestrated, almost musical ensemble piece that masterfully interweaves its characters rather in the manner of Renoir’s Rules of the Game. And like Renoir, Yang reveals himself to be a consummate observer of behavior, able to discern the comic and the tragic sides of the human predicament. Disappointed by the tepid reviews and general indifference given to his life’s work, Yang refused to release Yi Yi in Taiwan where, to this day, it has not screened theatrically.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Sunday September 14 at 7pm

A Borrowed Life (Duosang)

a borrowed life posterDirected by Wu Nien-jen, Appearing in Person
With Tsai Chen-nan, Tsai Chou-fong
Taiwan 1994, 35mm, color, 167 min. Taiwanese with English subtitles
Print courtesy of George Eastman House

Wu Nien-jen’s directorial debut is an intimate yet epic tale of a
Taiwanese working class family that extends from Taiwan’s independence, following decades of Japanese occupation, in the 1950s to the 1980s. The film’s Chinese-language title is “Father,” and its protagonist is modeled on Wu’s own father. Relations within the family are rocky, with poverty putting a strain on the parents’ marriage and the father’s Japanese upbringing adding to the generation gap between him and his son. Wu’s tender tribute to the frequently overlooked generation of the occupation is echoed in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness, which was co-scripted by Wu. While the style of A Borrowed Life may remind viewers of Hou—including long takes, the dearth of close-ups, the use of nonprofessional actors—the film’s tone is much more emotional, even as the restrained style keeps the film from sentimentality.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Screenwriter Wu Nien-jen in Person

Monday September 15 at 7pm

That Day on the Beach (Haitan De Yitian)

that day on the beach stillDirected by Edward Yang.
With Sylvia Chang, Terry Hu, Steven Hsu
Hong Kong/Taiwan 1983, 35mm, color, 166 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Yang’s first theatrical feature film is an intriguing blend of melodrama and social critique that occasionally recalls Fassbinder’s cool theatricality. The contrasting stories told by two reunited friends-- a famous concert pianist and a housewife— crystallize different facets of a changing Taiwan. The emergence of the independent career woman in That Day On the Beach marks the widening gap between the embittered and generally conservative older generation that fled the communist mainland and the youth flush with the beginning of Taiwan’s economic renaissance. The film also marks the debut of celebrated and influential cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who would famously go on to work with Wong Kar-wai and Gus van Sant.

audio from evening Listen to this evening's introduction, discussion and Q&A.

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Friday September 19 at 7pm

The Terrorizer (Kongbu Fenzi)

still from terrorizersDirected by Edward Yang.
With Cora Miao, Li Liqun, Wang An
Taiwan/Hong Kong 1986, 35mm, color, 109 min. Mandarin with English
subtitles

As the title indicates, this is the one of Yang’s films in which the air of menace, usually lurking at the edges of the frame, takes center stage. The film traces the intersecting fates of three couples in contemporary Taipei, all of whom are caught up in a torrent of violence either emotional or physical, or both. Two of the couples include relatively wealthy artists—one a novelist, the other a photographer—but the other consists of two young criminals, one a violent prostitute, the other her pimp. Standing apart from the three couples, but ultimately connected to all of them, is a policeman who is not so much an enforcer of the law as a witness of its seemingly unavoidable collapse. The harshness of the film’s plot, its elliptical nature and its sudden violence have all earned the film comparisons to Bresson.

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Friday September 19 at 9:15pm

A Confucian Confusion (Duli Shidai)

a confucian confusion stillDirected by Edward Yang.
With Chen Xiangqi, Ni Shujun, David Wang
Taiwan 1994, 35mm, color, 125 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Although Yang’s films are often punctuated by the director’s mordant
wit, they predominantly offer far darker visions of alienation and discontent—with the important exception of this film, which marked Yang’s surprise transmutation from tragedian into comedian. A Confucian Confusion is a ribald comedy of misunderstanding and well-laid plans gone awry, set among a group of upwardly mobile yet directionless Taipei yuppies. Yang’s hilarious critique of materialist culture observes the ways in which wealth corrodes relationships and corrupts ideals, transforming art and love into numb transactions and distracting everyone from the world as it falls apart around them.

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Saturday September 20 at 7pm

A Brighter Summer's Day (Gulingjie Shaonian Sharen Shijan)

a brighter summer's day stillDirected by Edward Yang.
With Lisa Yang, Zhang Zhen, Zhang Guozhu
Taiwan 1991, 35mm, color, 237 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

While Yi Yi brought Yang worldwide success, A Brighter Summer Day is more often pointed to as his great masterpiece, combining as it does the incisive eye and narrative complexity of Taipei Story and The Terrorizer with an epic scope that can truly be called novelistic. At the beginning of the 1960s, Taipei, though still semi-rural, struggles with a rapidly advancing modernity. Kids listen to Elvis Presley and join street gangs, while between the and the generation of their parents—displaced by the Chinese civil war and the Kuomintang's retreat to Taiwan—lies a tragic gap that only emotional excess and violence can fill. Young Si’er (Zhang Zhen) falls hard for Ming, a lovely, endearing and complex girl of “questionable” reputation who unfortunately “belongs” to the leader of a rival gang. More Carmen than Romeo and Juliet, the film offers a tender representation of ill-fated teenage love. At one point, a character refers to War and Peace, and Yang’s film reveals no less ambition than Tolstoy’s epic novel, but on a much smaller scale. In the world of A Brighter Summer Day, war is a distant memory, but peace is in short supply. Originally shorn of an hour for its initial release, the film will screen in its intended four-hour length.

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Sunday September 21 at 3pm

In Our Time (Guangyin de gushi)

in our time stillDirected by Edward Yang, Tao dechen, Ko I-Cheng, Zhang yi.
With Lan Shengwen, Shi Anni, Zhang Yingzhen
Taiwan 1982, 35mm, color, 106 min. Mandarin with English subtitles

Made one year before the better-known omnibus film The Sandwich Man, In Our Time is the work that first announced the coming of the New Taiwan Cinema. Consisting of four segments, each set in different decades from the 1950s through the 1980s, and dealing with protagonists at different stages of life between childhood and young adulthood. Yang’s made his cinematic debut with the second segment, “Expectations,” the story of an adolescent girl in the 1960s whose life is given a jolt by the arrival of a slightly older male student as a lodger in her house. Taken as a whole, In Our Time announces the ambition of the New Taiwan Cinema: to eschew studio-bound escapism and melodrama in favor of a hard-hitting cinema grounded in everyday life.

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Sunday September 21 at 7pm

Buddha Bless America (Tai ping tian guo)

buddha bless america stillDirected by Wu Nien-jen.
With Lin Cheng-sheng, Chiang Shu-na, Yang Tzong-hsien
Taiwan 1996, 35mm, color, 111 min. English and Taiwanese with English subtitles

The quiet of a sleepy Taiwanese fishing village is interrupted one day in the 1960s by American tanks rumbling into town for joint training exercises with the Taiwanese military. The village’s inhabitants are first unnerved, then curious and then quickly become jaundiced as they take to stealing whatever they can from the invaders. The film’s protagonist (played by filmmaker Lin Cheng-sheng) is a former teacher eager to capitalize on the US presence, and the film traces his disillusionment. (The HFA featured a retrospective of Lin’s films last year.) Although there is much more onscreen sound and fury than in A Borrowed Life, Wu’s camera retains that film’s long takes and its steady and subtle attention to landscape. The tone of Buddha Bless America is gently comic much of the time, but underneath the humor are sharp (and timely) observations about cultural colonialism and the uneasy relations between a local population and an occupying force.

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Sunday September 21 at 9:15pm

Mahjong

mahjong stillDirected by Edward Yang.
With Virginie Ledoyen, Tang Congsheng, Ke Yuluen
Taiwan 1996, 35mm, color, 121 min. English and Mandarin with English subtitles

Mahjong fuses Yang’s patented ensemble pieces about urban discontentment to a dizzying, farcical plot driven by the witty verbosity of screwball comedy. The film depicts the comical union of a goofy gang of criminal misfits and a group of European expatriates adrift in Taipei-- both determined to track down the waylaid teenaged son of a millionaire businessman and collect the reward. Despite its comedy, Mahjong mines similar territory as the earlier Taipei Story and The Terrorizer, observing the ultimately irreconcilable misunderstandings that arise from conflicting generations, social classes and communities.

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