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No Man an Island

No Man an Island: The Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien

James Udden
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 244
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  • Book Info
    No Man an Island
    Book Description:

    This pioneering study of Hou Hsiao-hsien illuminates the many distinctive achievements of Taiwan's famous director. His body of work in films such as The Puppetmaster, City of Sadness, and Flowers of Shanghai reflects a powerfully unique style characterized by intricate lighting, improvisational acting, and exceptionally long, static shots. James Udden argues that Hou's films reflect Taiwan's peculiar historical and geographical situation and could only have emerged there. Udden also examines the regional impact Hou's films have had on other Asian directors and cinema artists.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-60-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction The Problem of Hou Hsiao-hsien
    (pp. 1-12)

    One of the most remembered adages from Rudyard Kipling is the notion that East is East, and West is West, and never shall the twain meet. Many today would prefer to see this oft-quoted phrase as nothing more than a quaint post-colonial hangover, even believing themselves immune to such blatantly essentialist, Orientalist terms. But one has to wonder.

    Take, for example, what many critics have said about the Taiwanese film director, Hou Hsiao-hsien. Godfrey Cheshire explains Hou’s turning away from plot and character, and focusing more on objects and settings, as a return to a long-standing, older tradition in Chinese...

  5. 1 Hou and the Taiwanese Experience
    (pp. 13-48)

    Taiwan is a peculiar place resulting in a peculiar cinema, with Hou Hsiao-hsien being its most indelible product. We should be wary of any totalizing terms to explain this geopolitical and cinematic oddity. Nevertheless, there is one concept which comes close: the “Taiwanese Experience.” The origins of this term are murky, but significantly it came into widespread use in the 1980s, and still retains everyday cachet on the island today. There are volumes devoted to explaining the term.¹ Chen Ruxiu’s important study of the Taiwanese New Cinema bears the revealing title: Taiwanese New Cinema’s History, Culture and Experience.² To the...

  6. 2 Hou and the Taiwanese New Cinema
    (pp. 49-86)

    After completing a chapter of The Sandwich Man in 1983, Hou Hsiao-hsien directed four feature-length works: The Boys from Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985) and Dust in the Wind (1986). Collectively these films can be seen as the definitive works of the Taiwanese New Cinema before its semi-official end in early 1987, the year of his next film, Daughter of the Nile. In contrast with his later films, the first five each seem like deliberate steps, each adding yet another key piece to the larger aesthetic puzzle that is...

  7. 3 History in Its Place: City of Sadness (1989) and The Puppetmaster (1993)
    (pp. 87-130)

    The Taiwanese Experience is inconceivable without Taiwanese history. The autobiographical bent found in most New Cinema films ran counter to the KMT’s longstanding refusal to separate Taiwan’s history from that of China’s. Without making any overt statement or manifesto, the movement announced what Taiwan really is, not what the official ideology fantasizes. The Chinese title of Ke Yizheng’s Reunion says it all, translated literally as “This Is How We Grew Up.” Outside of Taiwan, this deeper message is lost; within Taiwan it is a recognizable code. Still, these stories emanated from a generation growing up in post-war Taiwan; they centered...

  8. 4 Goodbye to All That: The New Hou from Good Men, Good Women (1995) to Flowers of Shanghai (1998)
    (pp. 131-162)

    Looking at Hou Hsiao-hsien’s entire career tempts one to engage in that dubious intellectual exercise of determining a possible “peak” or “break.” If Hou peaked, he peaked relatively early. In little over a decade, he astonishingly went from making bubble-gum musicals in a dying film industry to making award-winning festival films which reconfigure long-held notions about both film aesthetics and history. Moreover, every step along the way was a sure one in the same general direction: Hou’s commercial trilogy half knowingly planted the seeds for certain stylistic tendencies which later will make him a festival darling; the New Cinema films...

  9. Conclusion Hou in the New Millennium
    (pp. 163-186)

    If anything, the story of Hou Hsiao-hsien serves as a cautionary tale. Often conclusions and generalizations are just too easy to come by; just as often they overlook the more tangled mesh of historical reality of which we can achieve a fragmentary understanding at best. Perhaps the most viable conclusion is to not conclude, but to let things remain open-ended. Not that no generalizations can be made. Even the most vociferous detractor and the most fervent admirer might agree that the films of Hou do represent an exceptionally unique body of work, even if not to everyone’s taste. The problem...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-206)
  11. Bilingual Filmography & Glossary
    (pp. 207-210)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 211-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-226)