I recently had the pleasure of seeing Chinlin Hsieh's Flowers of Taipei, along with the documentary Our Story, Our Time that's included on the new A Brighter Summer Day criterion disc, and thought it a good opportunity to write a few thoughts on Hou Hsiao Hsien and Edward Yang.
"They were the spark that made me believe our memories have value." - Apichatpong Weerasethakul
I can't remember which film I watched first, it was either Hou Hsiao Hsien's Millennium Mambo or Edward Yang's Yi Yi, but I remember thinking about islands. Islands with deep colonial histories, struggling through an awkward adolescence into modernism. I knew almost nothing about Taiwan other than that my good friend Gene had told me that while he had grown up speaking Taiwanese with his family in Hawai‘i, when he returned to Taiwan all the young kids spoke Mandarin and he got teased for speaking like an old man. This fascinated me, how quickly history moves. History, memory, islands.
"It was like the match I'd been waiting for." - Hirokazu Kore-eda
This was around 2002 and I was devouring Asian art cinema. Up until this point, growing up in Hawai‘i, I hadn't seen many Asian faces in movies. And when I did it was Hong Kong action, or old Bruce Lee, or B&W NHK films I watched with grandma. But here was a group of ragtag Asian filmmakers making artful, progressive, deeply personal works about their people and their home. For the first time, very briefly, I saw a future for myself in filmmaking.
I was only just starting to understand film language -- a language that still overwhelms me -- but I felt an immediate connection to Hou Hsiao Hsien's formal ambition. He wasn't making experimental films, but his composition and pacing felt unlike anything else I'd seen up until that point, one that captured a pace of life that felt lived in and real. I remember thinking: oh wow, Hou kept his distance, but it wasn't cold like Antonioni; Hou focused on the movement of bodies in a frame, but it wasn't theatrical like Fellini; Hou's films were elliptical, essentially plotless, but weren't heavy on allegory like a lot of plotless Western films were. Taiwanese New Wavers used real locations and real people. They were slow, relaxing, measured, and even though I could never understand the nuances of Taiwanese life, I felt there was a deep sense of history.