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Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and New Taiwanese Cinema

MUBI Special

Originating in the early 1980s, New Taiwanese Cinema injected a vibrant energy and approach into the nation’s cinematic landscape at a time of political transformation. Enabled by state-sponsored funding and a relaxation in censorship, directors like Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien made perceptive and adventurous films that eschew traditional narratives to speak to the realities of Taiwanese life. It wasn’t long before the two became internationally acclaimed auteurs, often compared to post-war Italian directors such as Antonioni and Rossellini. This series takes a look at the filmmakers who shaped the first wave of the movement, prior to the success of second wave filmmakers such as Ang Lee and Tsai Ming-liang.

Two omnibus films—In Our Time and The Sandwich Man—mark the literal beginning of the New Taiwanese Cinema and established the perceptive realism and political voice that would become key to later films. Another pivotal work, Chen Kun-hou’s Growing Up, became the movement’s first commercial hit. Edward Yang’s The Terrorizers, the first film presented in the retrospective, is a mysterious and tense tour de force that uses its terse pacing and framing to underscore anxieties about modern capitalism and globalization. Two films by Hou Hsiao-hsien, A Time to Live and a Time to Die and Dust in the Wind, are seminal early works from a director who continues to be a leading figure in world cinema. Both brilliantly tell coming-of-age stories set during salient periods in Taiwanese history.

Breaking conventions set by the filmmaking of Hong Kong and Hollywood, the filmmakers of the New Taiwanese Cinema deployed a mode of filmmaking that used long and carefully staged takes to frame undramatic narrative threads. These atmospheric masterpieces immersed audiences into the psychology of their characters, and therefore into the larger social context that they face. Filled with a deep humanism and resonant with the concerns of the nation, these films speak not just of their moment but of the birth of a new cinema.

Growing Up

Kun-ho Chen Taiwan, 1983

A nostalgic coming-of-age tale, this crucial film of the New Taiwanese Cinema was the first to bring the movement to the commercial forefront. Co-written by Hou Hsiao-hsien, the film explores prominent social issues surrounding Taiwanese identity as its story of juvenile delinquency unfolds.

Dust in the Wind

Hou Hsiao-hsien Taiwan, 1986

Hou Hsiao-hsien closes his triumphant coming-of-age trilogy with the underrated Dust in the Wind, a sublime story of first love set in ’70s Taiwan. With increasing formal precision, Hou masterfully explores the tension between tradition and transition, rural life and an urbanized Taipei.

A Time to Live and a Time to Die

Hou Hsiao-hsien Taiwan, 1985

Semi-autobiographical and spanning two decades, this early masterpiece from Hou Hsiao-hsien perfectly combines the historical drama and the coming-of-age story. A superb family saga, the film was an early international success for the filmmaker, winning the FIPRESCI prize at the 1986 Berlinale.

The Terrorizers

Edward Yang Taiwan, 1986

The New Taiwanese Cinema of the 1980s revitalized the nation’s cinematic landscape at a time of political transformation. We begin our retrospective with a classic from preeminent director Edward Yang (Yi Yi) , an enigmatic puzzle that refracts the changing society and culture of ’80s Taipei.

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