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.